Children’s activity levels have not recovered after end of Covid restrictions – study

Children have become more sedentary and their physical activity levels have deteriorated in the wake of the pandemic even after the lifting of restrictions, a study suggests.

Researchers said child physical activity levels fell below national guidelines during the Covid-19 crisis and did not recover when lockdowns ended.

The UK’s chief medical officers recommend that all children and young people should take part in an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.

However, the study led by the University of Bristol found that by the end of 2021, only a third were meeting the national recommended physical activity guidelines.

While there was no change in their parents’ physical activity levels, the findings showed 10-11-year-olds took part in on average just 56 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity during weekdays from last April to December.

Researchers said that was around eight minutes on average less – a drop of 13% – than children of a similar age were doing before the pandemic.

It found children were less active at the weekend than during the week, taking part in 46 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity during weekend days. This was also about eight minutes lower than children who were measured using the same methods before the pandemic.

The study also revealed a marked increase in sedentary time, with children spending 25 minutes longer sitting down each day during the week than previously.

“It was surprising, the extent children’s physical activity levels had fallen after the pandemic, indicating that changes in physical activity patterns did not revert to previous levels once freedoms had been restored,” said the study’s senior author, Prof Russ Jago, of the University of Bristol.

“These findings highlight a greater need to work with children, families, schools and communities to maximise the opportunities for children to be physically active as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Nearly 400 children and their parents from 23 schools in Bristol were recruited for the study. They wore an accelerometer to measure the intensity of physical activity and answered questionnaires. This information was compared with data from 1,296 children and their parents recruited from 50 schools in the same area before the pandemic.

“The key strength of this study was that we used data collected before and after the pandemic, using the same methods and in the same schools,” said Ruth Salway, a statistician at the University of Bristol. “The data clearly demonstrates children’s physical activity had deteriorated once the restrictions were lifted.

“This emphasises the importance of understanding how such habits change over time, so appropriate support and interventions can be introduced as normality resumes.”

The study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, was published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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