Research Article: Egocentric networks and physical activity outcomes in Latinas

Date Published: June 18, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Becky Marquez, Greg Norman, James Fowler, Kim Gans, Bess Marcus, Ana F. Abraido-Lanza.


Despite data linking the social environment to physical inactivity in Latinas, research on social network predictors of physical activity (PA) is limited. This study examined social network predictors of PA change in Latinas.

Egocentric network data were collected from 102 adult Latinas (egos) participating in a randomized controlled PA intervention trial for underactive women. Moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) was measured in minutes per week using the 7-Day PA Recall Interview and accelerometers at baseline and 12 months. Analyses characterized social network structure, composition, tie strength, homogeneity, and support for PA and determined the relationship between network characteristics and PA outcomes.

Networks had an average of four social ties (alters). Networks were high in density and transitivity and low in components, indicating high cohesion. Networks were primarily composed of females, Latinos, Spanish-speakers, and family members. Relationship ties were strong as evidenced by close living proximity, in-person contact, high emotional closeness, and long relationship duration. There was high homogeneity in demographics and PA behaviors. Multivariate analyses revealed that network size, familial ties, contact frequency, and ego-alter dissimilarities in age and running but similarities in walking, were associated with increased MVPA. Networks high in support for PA in the form of complimenting ego on exercise, taking over chores to allow ego to exercise, and co-participating with ego in exercise were also associated with greater MVPA.

These findings contribute to better understanding interpersonal processes that may influence behavior change in a group with especially low levels of PA.

Partial Text

Latinas have disproportionately low levels of physical activity compared to non-Hispanic White women [1]. Effective interventions to increase physical activity are necessary to reduce the elevated risk and burden of chronic diseases associated with physical inactivity [2]. Physical activity interventions for Latinas have predominately focused on individual level change and have produced small to modest improvements [3]. Evidence suggests intervention effects are impacted by participants’ social networks [4]. To better account for interpersonal influences on physical activity interventions, it is important to first understand the social context of behavior change. Research on Latino social networks indicate that women have smaller and less diverse networks and receive less instrumental support than men [5]. These network characteristics have been linked to lower physical activity in non-Latinos [6–8]. Examination of social networks of Latinas participating in a physical activity intervention may provide insight into potential social influence on changes in physical activity.

This study examined the relationship between social network characteristics and physical activity in Latinas. Several social network characteristics predicted changes in physical activity. The results help advance the understanding of potential social influence on intervention physical activity outcomes.

Social network structure, composition, tie strength, homogeneity, and support predicted physical activity change in Latinas. Network level predictors provide social context that can inform intervention strategies for the purpose of leveraging interpersonal influences on physical activity. To promote social norms and behavioral reinforcement of physical activity, future physical activity interventions targeting Latinas should consider programs that: 1) facilitate social interconnectivity and expansion of social networks, 2) include existing networks with emphasis on intergenerational family relationships, 3) provide opportunities for in-person interactions and joint activities with others, 4) allow exposure to peers and role models with diverse physical activity experience and skills, and 5) teach individuals and their networks how to elicit and provide effective emotional and instrumental support.




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