Children are exercising less and spending more time sat on the couch than ever before, according to new research out of the University of Bristol, England.

Fewer than 4 in 10 children in the UK were doing sufficient daily exercise at the end of last year. Children aged 10 to 11 were doing 13% less activity than before the first lockdown. Activity dropped particularly at the weekends.

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Children: exercising less than before the lockdowns


For the study, almost 400 children and their parents from 23 schools in the Bristol area wore an accelerometer to track the intensity of their exercise throughout the day. The participants also completed a questionnaire. The findings were then compared with data gathered about 1,296 children and their parents who were recruited from 50 schools in the same area before the pandemic.

“It was surprising the extent children’s physical activity levels had fallen after the pandemic, indicating that changes in physical activity patterns did not revert to previous levels once freedoms had been restored,” says study senior author Russ Jago, a professor of physical activity and public health, in a statement

“These findings highlight a greater need to work with children, families, schools, and communities to maximize the opportunities for children to be physically active, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The key strength of this study was we used data collected before and after the pandemic, using the same methods and in the same schools,” adds first author Dr Ruth Salway. “The data clearly demonstrates children’s physical activity had deteriorated once the restrictions were lifted. This emphasizes the importance of understanding how such habits change over time, so appropriate support and interventions can be introduced as normality resumes.”

More than 40% of all adults have gained weight during the pandemic

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A recent survey by Public Health England (PHE) of 5,000 adults suggests that 40% of all adults in England have gained weight during the pandemic, with the average gain being just over 3kg. PHE is now recommending a ‘summer health drive’ to help people lose this excess weight.

Previously we reported on a shocking American survey which suggested that 48% of millennials had gained a whopping 41lb in 2020 due to the pandemic. Millennials were the worst affected demographic by far.

The pandemic has brought serious changes to most people’s lives, with many working and eating at home in a way they had never done before. Restricted access to almost all exercise facilities has thrown most people back on their own initiative to find means of exercise.

Since the beginning of the crisis, experts have been warning that prolonged social-distancing measures would make obesity worse, and studies have shown significant drops in physical activity levels, especially among men and children.

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U.K. health officials advocate that children and young people should do an hour of exercise each day which leaves them slightly hot, sweaty and out of breath. They also say children should not spend too much time sitting around on the sofa.

The new research is yet further confirmation of the dreadful health effects the pandemic has had, especially for the young. We’ve already reported on the pandemic-induced mental health crisis for children, a “staggering” rise in childhood obesity, and evidence that the pandemic has stunted the development of babies, even if their mothers didn’t get COVID while pregnant.

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