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A new normal for children’s physical activity in the wake of the pandemic

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Posted 16th August 2023

The Active-6 project led by researchers at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Exercise, Nutrition, and Health Sciences has been exploring how Year 6’s physical activity and screen-viewing in 2017/18 compares to children in 2021 and 2022. Here, Dr Robert Walker, a researcher on the project provides an overview of this project’s findings and what they mean for the future of children’s physical activity.
Why physical activity is important

Meeting physical activity guidelines has been shown to have many benefits for children, such as improving mental and physical health, academic performance, and quality of life. The UK Chief Medical Officer recommends that children should engage in an hour or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. This is physical activity that raises the heart rate, and makes you breathe faster and feel warmer. Yet, as little as 41% of children aged 10-11 years in the UK were meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines prior to the pandemic.

The Active-6 project

With the nationwide COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, children were unable to be active in the same way they were before. For example, school closures reduced children’s opportunities to play with friends and attend active clubs and PE. While these restrictions were expected to impact children’s activity while they were in place, the Active-6 project investigated whether they had a lasting impact on children’s activity once they were removed.

To do this, we used devices to measured Year 6 children’s activity in 2021 and 2022 and compared these to data collected in 2017/18 from Year 6 children in the same schools from the Greater Bristol area. We also conducted research interviews with parents, children, and school staff to help us understand the reason for any changes.

For more information about research methods, peer-reviewed scientific publications, and other project information, please visit our project website (https://www.actify.org.uk/active-6).

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