Lajunen et al, 2009

The FinnTwin12 study included all twins born in Finland between 1983 and 1987, collating data, through self-completion questionnaire, from 5,184 twins aged 11–12 years, followed up at age 14 and 17 years. Responses concerning leisure activities and pubertal development, weight and height and parental education at baseline were analysed. A wide range of leisure activities was assayed, including: television and video viewing, computer games, listening to music, playing board games and musical instruments, reading, arts, crafts, socialising and taking part in clubs or scouts, sports and outdoor activities. Within this, ‘Arts were defined as drawing or painting and crafts as handicrafts, woodwork, or building scale models’ (p. 4), and frequency was classified as 2-3 times per week, month or year. Logistic regression models were used to study associations between becoming overweight, individual leisure activities and leisure activity patterns. The latter were categorised as active and sociable, active but less sociable, passive but sociable or passive and solitary. Models were adjusted for pubertal timing, socio-economic status and parents’ educational levels.

The study found that activity patterns did not predict the tendency to become overweight in boys, but sports and playing an instrument reduced the risk and arts and listening to music increased it. This finding is significant to the present analysis because it suggests that engagement in the arts in boys was detrimental to the maintenance of recommended weights. Among girls, few individual leisure activities predicted becoming overweight. However, the ‘passive and solitary’ cluster carried the greatest risk of becoming overweight in late adolescence. Contrary to Lennartsson and Silverstein’s definition of cultural participation as active and social, it is unclear which of the above-mentioned leisure activities mapped onto the passive and solitary cluster. This renders the deployment of leisure activity patterns useless to the present analysis.

The research team accepted the possibility of reverse causation between social participation and being overweight. One of the (acknowledged) weaknesses in this study was the self-reported nature of weight and the potential bias this might introduce, though this was not thought significant when considered in relation to leisure participation. Data about genetic predispositions to obesity were equally lacking from this study. In seeking to explain the findings, speculations were made about lack of sociability precipitating changes in the autonomic nervous system or the HPA axis, leading to feelings of loneliness and depression.

Hanna-Reetta Lajunen, Anna Keski-Rahkonen, Lea Pulkkinen, Richard J Rose, Aila Rissanen and Jaakko Kaprio, ‘Leisure Activity Patterns and Their Associations with Overweight: A Prospective Study among Adolescents’, Journal of Adolescence, 32, no. 5, October 2009, pp. 1089–1103.

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