When the power of peer pressure is used for good, it can be pretty useful in the realm of keeping kids healthy.
So suggests new research, which was recently presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress on Monday and tracked more than 800 students.
Researchers had "peer mentors" work with elementary school students and lead them in games after lunch once every two weeks. The peer mentors were the same age as the other students, and received training in organization, positive feedback and team building.
As a result, the kids who participated in the games gained an average of 1,000 steps every day, leading study authors to believe that "peer mentoring has a role to play in increasing school day activity levels among students."
In other words, kids will do what their friends do.
Not only that, added principal investigator Dr. Hancock Friesen: It lends credence to the notion that "social reasons for physical activity trump other influences to kids." That is to say, kids aren't going to make an effort to get more physical activity to lose weight to take care of their long-term health: They're going to do it to "fit in," so to speak.
And if they do that for a long time, add Friesen, "the ultimate result will be improved [body mass indexes] and waist circumference measurements." Read: Child obesity will decline.
It's also cheap: The games that peer mentors led their classmates in used things like hula hoops and bean bags, costing each of the 10 schools that participated a grand total of $200.
That's a lot cheaper than the medical costs of obesity, which runs L.A. County about $6 billion annually.
Researchers also found that their program improved the students' heart health.
Photo by niko si via Flickr Creative Commons.