The role of social support on physical activity behaviour in adolescent girls: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Adolescent girls have been targeted as a priority group for promoting physical activity levels however it is unclear how this can be achieved. There is some evidence to suggest that social support could impact the physical activity levels of adolescent girls, although the relationship is complex and not well understood.

This study aimed to systematically review and meta-analyse the relationship between social support and physical activity in adolescent girls, exploring how different types and providers of social support might influence the relationship.

Articles were identified through a systematic search of the literature using 14 electronic databases, personal resources, grey literature, and reference lists of included studies and previous reviews. Search terms representing social support, physical activity and adolescent girls were identified and used in various combinations to form a search strategy which was adapted for different databases. Cross-sectional or longitudinal articles published in English that reported an association between social support and physical activity in adolescent girls between the ages of 10 to 19 years were included. Studies that focused only on clinical or overweight populations were excluded.

Data extraction was carried out by one reviewer using an electronic extraction form. A random 25 % of included articles were selected for data extraction by a second reviewer to check fidelity. Risk of bias was assessed using a custom tool informed by the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme Cohort Study Checklist in conjunction with data extraction. Cross-sectional results were meta-analysed and longitudinal results were presented narratively.

The study found that small but significant associations between all available providers of total social support (except teachers) and physical activity were found (r = .14-.24). Small but significant associations were also identified for emotional, instrumental and modelling support for some providers of support (r = .10-.21). Longitudinal research supported the cross-sectional analyses.

Many of the meta-analysis results suggested high heterogeneity and there was some evidence of publication bias, therefore, the meta-analysis results should be interpreted with caution.

In conclusion, the meta-analysis results suggest that social support is not a strong predictor of physical activity in adolescent girls though parents and friends may have a role in enhancing PA.

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