As COVID-19 reaches record levels in the UK, health experts are calling for a focus on children’s fitness as new research reveals changes in children’s health and fitness as a result of the pandemic.

Conducted by Newcastle University (UK), University of South Australia, Edinburgh Napier University and Murdoch University, the study assessed changes over one year in the fitness of children, their health-related quality of life and body mass index (BMI), after the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns in the UK.

Researchers have found that for children 8 to 10 years old:

  • 51% of children were classified as “unfit” (compared to 35% at baseline)
  • 47% of children were overweight or obese (compared to 33% at baseline)
  • The children’s body mass increased by an average of 6.8 kg, about twice the amount expected during this period.

UniSA researcher Dr Naomi Burn said the study highlights the vital importance of physical fitness for children’s health and wellbeing, post-pandemic.

“Fitness is extremely important for children of all ages, with fitness being linked to a range of health outcomes, including heart and skeletal health, body composition and mental well-being,” says Dr Burn .

“When COVID-19 hit the UK in 2020, infection control measures meant schools closed for most pupils; outdoor playgrounds and sports clubs closed, and for many months, outdoor exercise was limited to one hour a day.

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

“As the pandemic persists, we must recognize the need to keep children healthy and active. This will not only benefit them now, but also later in life.

“At this time, we need governments, schools and communities to establish programs and policies that can support participation in sport and physical activity. This is vital for restoring the health of children both post-lockdown and in the event of future restrictions.”

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Material provided by University of South Australia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.