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Children’s inactivity remains a problem after the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on children’s physical activity – which is essential for their health and wellbeing – with major reductions in moderate-to-vigorous activity reported during lockdowns. Now, a team of researchers led by the University of Bristol has found that, although children’s physical activity in the UK has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels, children are still more sedentary during the week than before the lockdowns.

By fitting both children and parents/caregivers with accelerometers and addressing them a series of questionnaires, the experts assessed the physical activity levels of 393 children aged 10-11 between June and December 2021, and a further 436 children from the same age interval between January and July 2022. The collected data was compared to information about the physical activity of 1,300 children from the same area before the pandemic.

The analysis revealed that by last summer, 41 percent of the children were meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines of an hour of moderate-to-vigorous daily activity. This finding indicates that, although there was a certain improvement from the immediate aftermath of the lockdowns (when only 37 percent of children were meeting this target), the majority of children were still falling short of the recommended target. 

Moreover, children were still found to be more sedentary during the week after the restrictions were lifted, spending an extra 13 minutes on average daily being inactive. However, parents were found to engage in eight minutes more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at weekends than before the pandemic.

“It’s encouraging that on average children’s physical activity levels are back to where they were before the pandemic,” said study lead author Russ Jago, a professor of Physical Activity and Public Health at Bristol. “But it’s taken nearly a year since the last public lockdown was lifted, and children’s increased sedentary time during the week has persisted, which is an area of concern for policy makers, schools, and parents.”

“The findings suggest physical activity is susceptible to disruptions in provision and leisure opportunities, and highlight that still not enough 10 to 11-year-olds meet the guidelines. On the flipside, it’s great to see how the pandemic may have encouraged parents to be more active and it looks like these habits may be continuing,” concluded co-author Ruth Salway, a senior research associate in Epidemiology and Statistics at the same university.

The study is published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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