Pandemic is over – but most kids are still too much on the couch

BRISTOL, United Kingdom — While the World Health Organization says COVID-19 is no longer a global emergency, there is another pandemic problem causing problems: inactive children. A new study finds that the majority of kids are still spending too much time on the couch, despite activity rates returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Researchers at the University of Bristol found that by the summer of 2022, only 41 per cent of children in the UK met the national recommended physical activity guidelines of one hour of physical activity per day. Immediately after the pandemic, only 37 percent reached the goal, which includes moderate to vigorous exercise — defined as activity that makes kids a little hot, sweaty, and breathless. Based on those numbers, 59 percent of kids are still behind and far too inactive in the wake of COVID.

While there has been a slight improvement overall, children have become more sedentary during the week and have been physically inactive for 13 minutes longer compared to the pandemic period. In contrast, parents engaged in eight minutes more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each weekend than before the pandemic.

The team notes that medical officials in the UK have warned that children should limit the amount of time they sit or lie down, except while sleeping.

“It is encouraging that, on average, children’s physical activity levels are back to pre-pandemic levels,” study lead author Russ Jago, professor of Physical Activity and Public Health, said in a university press release. “However, it has been almost a year since the last public lockdown was lifted, and children’s increased sedentary time during the week continues, which is a concern for policy makers, schools and parents,”

Scroll down to see 7 ways parents can get their kids more active

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The study authors measured the physical activity of 393 children between the ages of 10 and 11 between June and December 2021. They assessed another 436 children of the same age from January to July of the same year. Participants came from 28 schools in the Bristol area.

The children and a parent or caregiver wore an accelerometer, which measures the participants’ movements, and completed a questionnaire. The team compared this data with pre-pandemic data collected from nearly 1,300 children and their parents from 50 schools in the same region.

“The findings suggest that physical activity is prone to disruptions in amenities and leisure opportunities, and highlight that not enough 10-11 year olds are meeting the guidelines. On the other hand, it’s great to see how the pandemic may have encouraged parents to be more active, and it looks like these habits may continue,” said study co-author Dr. Ruth Salway, Senior Research Associate in Epidemiology and Statistics.

The research will be published in the journal International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity.

How do parents get their children to exercise again?

  1. Participate in family activities: Participate in family activities that involve exercise, such as walking, cycling, swimming, or exercising together. This not only increases physical activity, but also strengthens family ties.
  2. Register for extracurricular activities: Enroll children in extracurricular activities such as sports, dance, or martial arts classes, which can help them develop a habit of regular exercise.
  3. Limit screen time: Set limits on the time children spend watching TV, playing video games, or using electronic devices. Encourage them to actively play or do hobbies instead.
  4. Provide age-appropriate toys and equipment: Offer children toys and equipment that encourage physical activity, such as jump ropes, balls, Frisbees, and bicycles.
  5. Be a role model: Children are more likely to be active when they see their parents and caregivers participating in physical activities. Be a positive role model by staying active yourself and involving your child in your own exercise routines.
  6. Encourage active socializing: Encourage children to invite friends to playdates that involve physical activities, such as playing tag, hide-and-seek, or sports.
  7. Set goals and offer rewards: Help children set realistic goals for their physical activity, and provide rewards or incentives to meet those goals, such as a special outing or a small treat.

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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