As children around the world stayed home, studied remotely and became more socially isolated during the coronavirus pandemic, they also became less physically active, according to a new review of almost two dozen studies that was published Monday in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The pandemic led to children’s daily physical activity declining by 20 percent, according to the review, which analyzed the results of 22 studies published in English that compared activity before and during the pandemic.
The review included studies published between January 2020 and January 2022, with a total of more than 14,000 participants under the age of 18 around the world. (It did not include any samples from Africa.)
The studies revealed an average decrease of 17 minutes a day in children’s “moderate-to-vigorous physical activity” during the pandemic.
The decline in physical activity was tied to Covid-19 restrictions that included social distancing, disrupted school schedules and remote learning, as well as an increase in children’s sedentary screen time, researchers said.
“Major outlets for accessing physical activity (sports clubs, swimming pools, gyms, community centers) were closed, canceled, or repeatedly interrupted,” the study stated, adding that school closures meant children were no longer participating in physical education classes, and that many playgrounds and other outdoor play spaces were also closed because of the pandemic.
The analysis found that young children with “consistent access and permission to use outdoor spaces” during the pandemic had better physical activity outcomes than others.
“These children exhibited smaller reductions in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and were approximately two times more likely to meet physical activity guidelines during Covid-19,” the researchers said.
The review’s findings “underscore the need to provide bolstered access to support and resources related to physical activity to ensure good health and social functioning among children and adolescents during pandemic recovery efforts,” the researchers concluded.
They added that “children’s movement behaviors should be at the forefront of pandemic.”
A decrease in physical activity can affect children’s mental health as well as their physical health, said Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, who was not involved in the review.
“We know that there was an increase in depression in children and adolescents, which in and of itself is likely associated with less physical activity,” he said.
He added that school lockdowns and societal restrictions “all may have had a greater impact on activity of children and adolescents than of adults, given young people’s greater reliance on out-of-the-house places for their physical activity.”