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Kent State Research Reveals Shunned Children Exercise Less, at Greater Risk for Obesity

Posted Feb. 10, 2012

New research from Kent State University’s Dr. Jacob Barkley, assistant professor of exercise science, demonstrates that social exclusion results in decreased physical activity among children. The study, “The Effect of Simulated Ostracism on Physical Activity Behavior in Children,” appears in the March 2012 issue of Pediatrics, and is available online.

Dr. Jacob BarkleyBarkley launched his study to examine whether ostracism results in reduced physical activity behaviors. It builds on past findings that simply recognize an association between social exclusion and reduced activity.

Barkley’s team asked children ages 8-12 to play a virtual ball-toss computer game, Cyberball, telling children the game was played over the Internet with two others. In half the sessions, children were excluded from receiving the ball for most of the game. In the other half, children received the ball one-third of the time. Each child played the game once under each condition and was then immediately placed in a gymnasium to choose any sedentary or physical activity while researchers observed and measured behaviors.

Physical versus sedentary activity measurements taken immediately after playing under each condition revealed ostracism elicits decreased physical activity participation in children – reducing accelerometer counts by 22 percent and increasing time allocated to sedentary behaviors by 41 percent.

“Our findings demonstrate the direct negative impact of social exclusion on the likelihood to be physically active,” Barkley said. “Even a brief experience of ostracism immediately impacts levels of physical activity, whether or not a child is overweight.

“More research is needed to better understand what initiates the cyclical relationship. Social exclusion reduces interest in physical activity behaviors, decreased activity may produce further ostracism, and so on. However, we now know sedentary activity in children can result from one instance of ostracism.”

Barkley received his bachelor’s degree in physical education (with concentration in exercise physiology) from the State University of New York College (SUNY) at Brockport in 1998. He then earned both his M.S. (2002) and Ph.D. (2007) in exercise science from SUNY University at Buffalo. Barkley’s work includes multiple studies examining how social interaction, variety of equipment and “exergames” affect physical activity behavior in children, adolescents and adults.

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