Children’s physical activity levels stuck below guidelines after Covid lockdowns

·3-min read
Children playing football - Mark Waugh/Alamy
Children playing football - Mark Waugh/Alamy

Children’s physical activity levels remained below national guidelines even after Covid restrictions were lifted in Britain, a new study shows, suggesting lockdowns have had long-term impacts on exercise.

Research showed that, from April to December last year, 10 and 11-year-olds averaged just 56 minutes of moderate to vigorous daily activity on weekdays – four minutes below the one-hour recommendation.

Academics said that was around eight minutes on average less than children of a similar age had been doing before the pandemic, amounting to a 13 per cent drop in activity.

The findings showed that children were also less active at the weekend than during the week, taking part in 46 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on Saturdays and Sundays.

Just 36 per cent of youngsters were meeting recommended physical activity guidelines, with the average child needing to make up an extra 48 minutes of activity to meet weekly requirements.

Prof Russ Jago, of the University of Bristol, said: “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.

“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.”

Physical activity is important for children’s health and happiness, and UK chief medical officers recommend that all children and young people should take part in an hour of activity that gets them slightly hot, slightly sweaty, and out of breath and limit the amount of time they spend being sedentary.

The study showed there had been a marked increase in sedentary time, with children spending 25 minutes longer per day being sedentary than previously during the week.

Since the start of lockdown restrictions in March 2020, experts have warned that keeping children indoors and separating them from their peers would have long-term consequences for mental and physical health.

Dr Ruth Salway, a statistician from the University of Bristol, added: “The key strength of this study was we used data collected before and after the pandemic, using the same methods and in the same schools.

“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.”

Nearly 400 children and their parents, from 23 schools in the Bristol area, were recruited for the study.

Both parents and children were asked to wear an accelerometer to measure the intensity of physical activity and answered a questionnaire.

This information was compared with data from 1,296 children and their parents who were recruited from 50 schools in the same area before the pandemic.

The study was published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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