health brief

Children’s Physical Activity Declined Since Pandemic

Largely Attributed to Social Distancing and School Closures

Children’s Physical Activity Declined Since Pandemic - Samuel Borges Photography/ShutterStock.com
Samuel Borges Photography/ShutterStock.com

In a new systematic review and meta-analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers found that children’s physical activity has been greatly reduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers looked at data from 22 studies that included 14,216 participants ranging from 3 to 18 years old.

The data showed that children’s total daily physical activity decreased by 20 percent (17 minutes), irrespective of pre-pandemic baseline levels, and the reduction was larger for higher-intensity physical activity. This reduction represents almost one-third of the daily dose of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity recommended for young children and adolescents.

These effects are largely due to social distancing policies and related school closures, which affected 1.5 billion youth worldwide. Under lockdown, children no longer had access to regular physical activities, recreational facilities or outdoor recess, and online learning increased sedentary screen time, disrupting healthy habits.

Physical activity affects not only physical health, but also psychosocial functioning and mental well-being. The study’s results align with another meta-analysis showing that the pandemic increased the prevalence of youth depression and anxiety symptoms, highlighting the tremendous challenges that public health officials face to revive young people’s interest in physical activity since the pandemic.


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