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It has been shown that adult exercise habits are influenced by experiences of sport and physical activity at a young age. There is no consensus among scholars how this relationship really works, but no one seems to question the relationship itself, and therefore there is consensus about the importance of children and adolescents participating in physical activity. There are more immediate reasons as well, like the present obesity epidemic among young people who spend their time at the computer, consuming unhealthy food and drinks. It would seem reasonable to support young people who engage in various forms of activity, but there is conflicting evidence on the importance of social support. This is the backdrop for Sofia Bunke’s thesis in psychology, Social Support for Physical Activity Among Adolescents (Lund University, Department of Psychology). Three empirical studies is included in the thesis, and they all problematize the importance of social support for physical activity among youths in high school. The thesis, reviewed here by Kirsten Kaya Roessler, professor of psychology at the University of Southern Denmark, found that various forms of social support is necessary but not sufficient to help young people to maintain a reasonable level of activity, that it is important that support is sustained over time, but that support also may have negative effects.

Youth and physical activity

Kirsten Kaya Roessler
University of Southern Denmark, Odense

Sofia Bunke
Social Support for Physical Activity Among Adolescents
144 pages, pb.
Lund: Lund University, Department of Psychology 2011
ISBN 978-91-7473-095-1

In the spring of 2011, Sofia Bunke defended her academically relevant dissertation Social Support for Physical Activity Among Adolescents at the Department of Psychology, Lund University. Main supervisor of the thesis was sport psychologist and associate professor Erwin Apitzsch.

The main purpose of the dissertation was to understand the importance of social support among young people, based on a health-oriented context. How do adolescents support themselves and how can we provide better support to young people? What supports and what prevents young people from participating in physical activity?

A parent herself, and with several years of experience as a teacher, the author Sofia Bunke reasonably has good personal insight to help her understand the challenges that young people experience. To offer social support is something that requires a sense of balance, not least in relation to physical activity.

The thesis starts with a brief review of the developmental life phase adolescence and a definition of exercise psychology. This is followed by a section on physical activity and health, and a chapter on the determinants of physical activity. A chapter on the historical aspects of social support and its impact on physical activity finishes the introduction. The theoretical analysis and discussion is relatively brief, considering that she deals with such central topics as intentionality, motivation, health, and most importantly, adolescence. Adolescence is a potentially crisis-filled phase, which covers affiliation, identity, and potential abuse. The dissertation quotes around 40 references, including only four books. For a dissertation at a psychological institute, this is not too numerous. Obviously, the author has – successfully – invested much time and energy in the empirical studies.

The main part of the dissertation is the data analysis consisting of three studies. Data of over 1500 young people aged 16 to 19 are generated. This is a very representative study.

Study number 1 is a cross-sectional quantitative study with 1156 participants aged 16 and 17, who were investigated with the validated Social Support Scale. The study concludes that social support in the sports club is most important, while school and leisure as a context have both positive and negative effects.

Study number 2 is a longitudinal survey with 404 students aged 16 or 17 and later on 18 or 19, exploring the meaning of social influence. Social influence can – again –play both a positive and a negative role in participants’ physical activity.

Study number 3 is also longitudinal, but this time a qualitative study. The author works with an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Results show that positive experience, health, performance improvement, social support and availability play an important role for young people and their ability to be physically active.

Sofia Bunke’s thesis demonstrates her knowledge of the sport psychology literature and shows her experience with qualitative and quantitative data analysis. She presents interpersonal, social and environmental facilitators and barriers to physical activity. Social support has different impact depending on whether it is provided by friends or family. The attitudes of friends have the most significant importance. Friends can invite cultivation of physical activity, but also, to a high degree, be the cause of stopping being physically active. The dissertation’s three articles provide excellent material for the scientific sport psychology.

© Kirsten Kaya Roessler 2012.

To purchase this book, please eontact the author, | Editor Kjell E. Eriksson | Publisher Kristian Sjövik