Children have become more sedentary and their levels of physical activity have deteriorated amid the pandemic, even after restrictions were lifted, a study finds.
Researchers said children’s physical activity levels fell below national guidelines during the Covid-19 crisis and have not recovered after lockdown ended.
The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend that all children and adolescents should get one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.
But the study, led by the University of Bristol, found that by the end of 2021, just a third were meeting national recommended physical activity guidelines.
While their parents’ physical activity levels did not change, the results showed that 10- to 11-year-olds engaged in an average of just 56 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on weekdays from April to December.
Researchers said that’s about eight minutes less on average — a 13% decrease — than children of a similar age before the pandemic.
It found that children were less active on weekends than during the week and engaged in 46 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on weekend days. This was also about eight minutes less than children measured using the same methods before the pandemic.
The study also showed a significant increase in sedentary time, with children spending 25 minutes more sitting each day than before during the weekday.
“It was surprising how much physical activity among children had fallen after the pandemic, suggesting that changes in physical activity patterns did not return to previous levels after freedoms were restored,” said the study’s lead author, Prof .Russ Jago, from the University of Bristol.
“These results underscore a greater need to work with children, families, schools and communities to maximize opportunities for children to be physically active as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Almost 400 children and their parents from 23 Bristol schools were recruited for the study. They wore an accelerometer to measure the intensity of physical activity and answered questionnaires. This information was compared to 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 shows that children’s physical activity has deteriorated after restrictions were lifted.
“This underscores the importance of understanding how such habits change over time so that appropriate support and interventions can be put in place when normalcy returns.”
The study, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.