Health experts call for focusing on Children’s physical fitness

Following concerning changes to children's health and physical fitness post COVID-19


Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) an infectious disease, first reported by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, China, in December 2019 and later confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in March 2020.

The associated infection control measures such as isolation and social distancing may have had a unique impact on children’s physical and mental health.

New research reveals concerns about children’s health and physical fitness changes following the pandemic.

As COVID-19 reaches record levels in the UK, health experts are calling for a focus on children’s physical fitness.

The research was conducted by Newcastle University (UK), the University of South Australia, Edinburgh Napier University, and Murdoch University. The study assessed one-year changes in children’s physical fitness and health-related quality of life, and body mass index (BMI), after the 2020 COVID-19 UK lockdowns.

Children’s physical fitness levels are important independent predictors of health outcomes, including cardiovascular and skeletal health, adiposity, and mental well-being. Health-related quality of life is a complex, subjective view of physical, social, and emotional well-being related to an individual’s health state.

Study findings: Concerning health data

Researchers found that for children aged 8-10 years:

  • 51 percent of children were classed as ‘unfit’ (compared with 35 percent at baseline)
  • 47 percent of children were overweight or obese (compared with 33 percent at baseline)
  • Children’s body mass increased by an average of 6.8 kg, about twice the amount expected in this time period.

UniSA researcher Dr. Naomi Burn says the study highlights the vital importance of physical fitness for post-pandemic children’s health and well-being.

“When COVID-19 hit the United Kingdom in 2020, infection control measures led to the closure of schools for most pupils; outdoor playgrounds and sports clubs closed, and for many months outdoor exercise was limited to only one hour per day.

“Such unprecedented restrictions have had a distinct impact on children’s physical and mental health, with nearly half of children presenting as being obese and more than half classified as unfit.

“While the pandemic persists, we need to recognise the need to keep kids healthy and active. Not only will this benefit them now, but also later in life.

“Right now, we need governments, schools and communities to establish programs and policies that can support involvement in sports and physical activities. This is vital for children’s health recovery both post lockdown and in the case of future restrictions.”

Limitations of the study:

  1. Relatively small sample size due to COVID-19 protocols
  2. Most of the children were from a white ethnic background, from a deprived area, so researchers were unable to generalize to less deprived populations or other ethnicities.
  3. Researchers were unable to attribute the detrimental changes in 20mSRT performance and BMI directly to the lockdowns due to the lack of a comparator group.

“Taken together, the importance of sport, physical activity, and physical fitness for recovery from the COVID-19 lockdowns must be acknowledged, with programmes to increase participation accelerated, and policies in place to support continued activity and involvement, both now and should future restrictions be required.” Study concludes.

Journal Reference

  1. Laura Basterfield, Naomi L Burn, Brook Galna, Hannah Batten, Louis Goffe, Guoda Karoblyte, Matt Lawn & Kathryn L Weston (2022) Changes in children’s physical fitness, BMI and health-related quality of life after the first 2020 COVID-19 lockdown in England: A longitudinal study, Journal of Sports Sciences, 40:10, 1088-1096, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2022.2047504
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