Network-Behavior Dynamics of Adolescent Friendships, Alcohol Use, and Physical Activity

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Abstract

Objective: The coevolution of adolescent social networks, alcohol use, and physical activity is studied. Previous research has independently evaluated each behavior, overlooking the potential power of examining their development within a shared social context. The current study extends previous research by examining the dynamics of friendship networks, alcohol use, and physical activity in conjunction, including the concurrent engagement in both behaviors, with a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents. Special attention is paid to differing patterns of peer selection and peer assimilation across behaviors. Method: Data come from 2 high schools (n = 640; n = 1,156) within the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Longitudinal stochastic actor-based models were used to separate peer selection and assimilation processes to differentiate the mechanisms linking friendships and both behaviors as well as the relationship between alcohol use and physical activity. Results: Findings suggest distinct differences in the importance of peer selection and assimilation processes to adolescent alcohol use and physical activity. In both schools, adolescents selected friends based on similarity in alcohol use, but no selection effect was found for physical activity. Conversely, assimilation to friends’ behavior occurred for physical activity, yet evidence for alcohol assimilation was mixed. No significant relationship between alcohol use and physical activity emerged. Conclusions: Intervention efforts that focus on friend influence in changing health behavior may have particular success with adolescent physical activity. Programs aimed at alcohol use would benefit from including an emphasis on preventing negative friend formations.

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