The Impact of COVID-19
At the beginning of 2020, the negative impact of the rapid spread of COVID-19 was immediately recognized in various areas of our lives. Economic decline, lack of social and emotional support, and widening gaps in access to adequate health care were experienced worldwide. Many of us struggled to remain physically fit as the avoidance of contracting the virus became everyone’s main concern. Children and youth were not excluded from this challenge as much of their daily physical activity takes place in school Physical Education (PE) classes, recess, or organized sports, all of which were likely paused or reduced during the pandemic.
The Research Says. . .
Two and a half years later, research has demonstrated additional negative impact on child and adolescent physical activity.1 A systematic review of 22 longitudinal research studies comparing pre-pandemic physical activity to physical activity levels during the pandemic found that the amount of time youth spent being physically active decreased by approximately 20% on average. The findings were based on studies that included both child and parent-reported data. The declines in physical activity minutes were evident globally wherein the largest decrease was observed in Europe (48%), followed by North America (18%), South America (15%), Asia (11%), Middle East (2%), Central America (2%), and Australia/New Zealand (2%).
Additionally, the study also showed a 17-minute reduction in the amount of time spent in moderate- to vigorous physical activity. This is equivalent to almost one-third of the recommended physical activity for children in school. Regionally, the states that experienced the largest declines in youth physical activity were located in the northern United States (37%), which is likely due to heavier COVID-19 restrictions and remote schooling. These data are similar to the observed trends during the “summer slide”, associating the decline in physical activity with summer vacation and time away from school. Lastly, similar negative trends were found in samples of students experiencing longer durations between physical activity assessments (28%), emphasizing the importance of fitness assessments.
While these findings are likely the result of policies and guidelines aimed at containing the spread of the virus, it is possible that the decline in physical activity levels among youth could lead to significant health consequences if proper steps are not taken to counteract this issue.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children between the ages of 6 and 17 engage in moderate- to vigorous physical activity for a minimum of 60 minutes per day.2 In this post-COVID-19 era, Neville et al. suggest “bolstered” efforts to address physical fitness in children and adolescents, leading COVID recovery efforts. The schools/districts and their respective administrators can address this need by implementing or enhancing physical activity policies and programming.
NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project - Filling the Gap
Since 2009, The Cooper Institute and the NFL Foundation have partnered to improve physical fitness of students across the nation. The program was restructured in 2019 to adopt a Collective Impact Model which focuses on a collaboration with various NFL PLAY 60 partners to address the needs of the whole child. Planning for the future through an equitable lens, the Collective Impact Model now prioritizes black and brown students disproportionately impacted by obesity and access to physical activity. Updated enrollment criteria aim to eliminate barriers to program participation for Title I Schools, and the Project incentives designed to assist with program implementation shrink the gap between children and healthful resources.
As a school-based program, the NFL PLAY 60 FitnessGram Project is excited to increase program engagement and participation in this post-COVID-19 world and for the upcoming school year. With great anticipation, The Cooper Institute looks forward to re-engaging and reigniting the passion for youth health and physical fitness in schools across America.
Additional Resources from The Cooper Institute
FitnessGram Playground was created during the COVID-19 pandemic to help children stay physically active at home. This platform allows students to:
- LEARN about aerobic capacity, body composition, and muscle fitness
- ASSESS physical fitness through the FitnessGram Online Learning
- ADDRESS fitness needs with the FitnessGram Tracker, Fit 4 FitnessGram H.Y.P.E. Break Videos, and The Cooper Institute YouTube Channel
The resources are free for public use and easy to navigate for students, teachers and parents. With resources like these, The Cooper Institute maintains the commitment or creating a healthier generation now and Well. Into the Future.
1Neville RD, Lakes KD, Hopkins WG, et al. Global Changes in Child and Adolescent Physical Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. 2022;176(9):886–894. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.2313