UK study calls for more focus on youth fitness

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New research from the United Kingdom (UK) has assessed one-year changes in children’s physical fitness, health, and body mass index (BMI), after the 2020 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdowns.

The study, published in the Journal of Sports Sciences, was conducted by researchers at Newcastle University, the University of South Australia, Edinburgh Napier University, and Murdoch University. Data was collected from 178 eight- to 10-year-old children, during the period of October 2019 to November 2020 in England. 

The children were evaluated through a number of activities – a 20-meter shuttle run test, handgrip strength, standing broad jump, sit and reach, height, body mass, a health questionnaire, and sports club participation. In addition, BMI z-scores and overweight/obesity were calculated, according to the study.

Researchers found that, of the participants, 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; and children’s body mass increased by an average of 6.8 kilograms, about twice amount expected.

“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,” said Naomi Burn, PhD, online course facilitator at University of South Australia Online in a statement. “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 recognize 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, she said.