New Swansea University research is examining the impact Covid-19 is having on the physical activity, mental health and wellbeing of children in Wales.
Though schools are preparing to welcome back pupils, ongoing social distancing measures mean sports and play activities continue to be disrupted.
Sport and exercise scientists Dr Kelly Mackintosh, Dr Melitta McNarry, Prof Gareth Stratton and Dr Denise Hill say changes like these can have considerable consequences for the physical and mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.
Though children may be less susceptible to contracting Covid, they are likely to be less resilient to the wider contextual impacts. As a result, children are more likely to experience significant stress, anxiety, behavioural problems and fear related the pandemic.
Dr Mackintosh said: “This project will substantially advance our understanding of the impact Covid-19 has had on children and young people and help us to provide guidance on what strategies are needed – and where – to minimise these impacts, both now and in the longer-term.”
The researchers say there is an increasing concern that current sedentary lifestyles triggered by the pandemic may become entrenched as children and young people get out of the habit of being physically active.
Their study, Physical activity levels, mental health and wellbeing in children and young people in Wales during Covid-19, is monitoring youngsters in Wales aged from 8 to 16 over the next year.
Dr Liezel Hurter, a research assistant for the Welsh Institute of Physical Activity, Health and Sport (WIPAHS), a partnership with Sport Wales and Welsh higher education institutes, led by Swansea University, has recruited participants through all schools in Wales.
The research consists of a tailored physical activity, health and wellbeing survey, with a random representative sub-sample of 800 children being given activity devices to wear on their wrists.
These devices will record the youngsters activity over a seven-day period at various time-points, the first during lockdown, and then at subsequent time-points upon their return to school.
Dr Mackintosh said: “We want to determine the current levels of children’s activity and wellbeing and then track whether these change as we progress through the various phases of the pandemic.”
“This information will help us determine the immediate and long-term impact the pandemic and associated restrictions have had.”
The researchers say the project is particularly important in helping to support schools as they seek to promote children and young people’s activity and awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyle choices during Covid and beyond.
The group’s preliminary findings will be shared through blogs, infographics and podcasts.
Dr Mackintosh said: “We really want to use the results to inform strategies to enhance children and young people’s health and wellbeing surrounding wider Covid-19 issues.”
She added: “Given that physical inactivity was already recognised as a major public health challenge of the 21st century prior to coronavirus, the scale of this issue and its consequences cannot be overstated.”
“Increasing understanding and awareness of the importance of physical activity and mental health, and their interaction, is imperative.”