Accelerometer-measured physical activity and sedentary time among children and their parents in the UK before and after COVID-19 lockdowns: a natural experiment

Ruth E Salway, Charlie E M Foster, Frank de Vocht , Byron P Tibbitts, Lydia G Collison, Danielle R House, Jo Williams, Katie Breheny, Thomas Reid, Robert Walker, Sarah Churchward, William Hollingworth, Russell Jago*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Restrictions due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic reduced physical activity provision for both children and their parents. Recent studies have reported decreases in physical activity levels during lockdown restrictions, but these were largely reliant on self-report methods, with data collected via unrepresentative self-report surveys. The post-pandemic impacts on children’s activity levels remain unknown. A key question is how active children become once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Active-6 is a repeated cross-sectional natural experiment. Accelerometer data from 1296 children aged 10-11 and their parents were collected in 50 schools in the Greater Bristol area, UK in March 2017-May 2018 (pre-COVID-19 comparator group), and compared to 397 children aged 10-11 and parents in 23 of the same schools, collected in May-December 2021. Mean minutes of accelerometer-measured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) were derived for weekdays and weekend and compared pre- and post-lockdown via linear multilevel models.

After adjusting for seasonality, accelerometer wear time and child/parent demographics, children’s mean weekday and weekend MVPA were 7.7 min (95% CI: 3.5 to 11.9) and 6.9 min (95% CI: 0.9 to 12.9) lower in 2021 than in 2018, respectively, while sedentary time was higher by 25.4 min (95% CI: 15.8 to 35.0) and 14.0 min (95% CI: 1.5 to 26.5). There was no evidence that differences varied by child gender or household education. There was no significant difference in parents’ MVPA or sedentary time, either on weekdays or weekends.

Children’s MVPA was lower by 7-8 min/day in 2021 once restrictions were lifted than before the pandemic for all groups, on both weekdays and weekends. Previous research has shown that there is an undesirable age-related decline in children’s physical activity. The 7-minute difference reported here would be broadly comparable to the decline that would have previously been expected to occur over a three-year period. Parents’ physical activity was similar to pre-pandemic levels. Our results suggest that despite easing of restrictions, children’s activity levels have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. There is an urgent need to understand why these changes have occurred and how long they are maintained.
Original languageEnglish
Article number51
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research [Public Health Research Programme – project 131847]. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR PHR Programme or the Department of Health and Social Care. The data for the comparator study (Wave 0) was funded by the British Heart Foundation (ref: SP 14/4/31123). FDV, WH and RJ are partly funded by the by the National Institute for Health Research Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West). The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. Funders had no involvement in data analysis, data interpretation or writing of the paper. Public Health Research Programme,131847,Russell Jago ,British Heart Foundation,SP 14/4/31123,Russell Jago

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

Structured keywords

  • SPS Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences
  • HEHP@Bristol


  • physical activity
  • children
  • covid-19
  • sedentary behavior
  • adults
  • SARS CoV 2


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