Decreased Physical Activity Among Youth Resulting From COVID-19 Pandemic-Related School Closures: Natural Experimental Study.

Amanda Grimes
Joseph S. Lightner
Katlyn Eighmy
Chelsea Steel, Children's Mercy Hospital
Robin P. Shook, Children's Mercy Hospital
Jordan A. Carlson, Children's Mercy Hospital

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BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the closure of schools and may have inadvertently resulted in decreased physical activity for youth. Emerging evidence suggests that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic could have hastened the inactivity of youth, possibly due to a lack of structure outside of school and increased access to sedentary activities.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to assess changes in physical activity from pre-school closure (before the pandemic) to post-school closure (during the pandemic) among youth in spring 2020.

METHODS: This study used a natural experimental design; youth were enrolled in a physical activity study prior to the lockdown, which was enforced due to the pandemic. The number of device-assessed steps per day and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity minutes per week were measured by using a Garmin Vivofit 4 (Garmin Ltd) accelerometer over 8 weeks. Mixed effects models were used to compare physical activity variables, which were measured before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

RESULTS: Youth were primarily Hispanic or Latinx (8/17, 47%) and female (10/17, 59%). The number of daily steps decreased by 45.4% during the school closure, from a pre-school closure mean of 8003 steps per day to a post-school closure mean of 4366 steps per day. Daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity decreased by 42.5%, from a pre-school closure mean of 80.18 minutes per week to a post-school closure mean of 46.13 minutes per week.

CONCLUSIONS: Youth are engaging in roughly half as much physical activity during the school closure as they were prior to the school closure. If additional evidence supports these claims, interventions are needed to support youths' engagement in physical activity in the Midwest.