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Survey led by Dalhousie researcher shows COVID-19 lockdown’s impact on children, youth activity

The study says there is evidence of the COVID-19 outbreak having a negative impact on the movement and play behaviours of children and youth.
The study says there is evidence of the COVID-19 outbreak having a negative impact on the movement and play behaviours of children and youth. Dalhousie Univeristy

A Dalhousie professor in Halifax has authored a paper showing the impact COVID-19 restrictions have had on kids’ physical health and what parents can do to help keep them active.

In a statement, the University of Dalhousie said Sarah Moore of the school’s faculty of health led a national survey commissioned by ParticipACTION showing that “restricted access to playgrounds, schools, child care, playdates, and instructions to ‘stay home’ have made it more challenging than ever for kids to develop and maintain healthy movement behaviour habits.”

READ MORE: COVID-19 lockdown is tough on kids. Here’s what parents can do

ParticipACTION is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to help Canadians sit less and move more.

The study shows that in April, one month after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, less than three per cent of Canadian youth ages five to 17 were meeting the minimum recommendations in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep — in contrast to 15 per cent before the health crisis.

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“This pandemic has been extremely difficult for families, but also a time for children and their parents to reconnect through play, physical activity, and the outdoors,” Moore said in a press release.

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READ MORE: Can we really keep kids distant in school amid COVID-19? It won’t be easy, experts say

“Take some time together this summer to get outside and be active — it may help to mitigate the negative effects of this crisis for you and your children.”

According to Moore, more than 1,500 Canadian parents responded to the survey, which assessed COVID-19-related changes in their child’s movement and play behaviours.

The study shows that grades for physical activity, screen time and 24-hour movement behaviours would all be “F” during the COVID-19 lockdown.

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“This survey showed that children and youth had lower physical activity levels, less outdoor time, higher leisure screen time and more sleep during the outbreak,” said Dr. Mark Tremblay, chair of Outdoor Play Canada, chief scientific officer for the ParticipACTION Report Card and senior scientist at the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa.

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“The rapid deterioration in healthy lifestyle behaviours from already low levels reminds us of the delicate balance required between efforts to prevent disease transmission and those to promote healthy behaviours.”

As a result of the change in healthy lifestyles among families, Moore suggests that the survey findings can guide summer “homework” for families.

READ MORE:How are Canadian kids holding up amid COVID-19?

The homework includes parental involvement in physical activity with their kids, owning a dog and adopting new hobbies.

The study states that the survey provides evidence of the COVID-19 outbreak having a negative impact on the movement and play behaviours of children and youth.

“These findings can guide efforts to preserve and promote child health during the COVID-19 outbreak and crisis recovery period, and to inform strategies to mitigate potential harm during future pandemics,” the study states.