Comparison of children’s physical activity profiles before and after COVID-19 lockdowns: A latent profile analysis

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

1 Citation (Scopus)


Physical activity is important for children’s health, but moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) declines with age. COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in reduced MVPA and increased sedentary time among children. Characterising children’s activity patterns may help identify groups who are most likely to be inactive post-lockdown.
Data were combined from a pre-COVID-19 cohort study on children aged 5-6 years (Year1: n=1299), 8-9 years (Year4: n=1223) and 10-11 years (Year6: n=1296) and cross-sectional post-lockdown data from a natural experiment on 10-11-year-olds in 2021 (Year6-W1: n=393) and 2022 (Year6-W2: n=436). The proportions of time spent in MVPA, light physical activity (LPA) and sedentary time on weekdays and weekends were derived from accelerometer data. Latent class analysis was used to identify activity profiles pre and post-lockdown, and estimate pre-COVID-19 transitions between Year4 and Year6. We identified six pre-COVID-19 activity profiles in Year6, including a new profile characterised by very low MVPA and high sedentary time (19% of children). There was substantial movement between profiles at Year4 and Year6, with 45% moving to a profile with lower MVPA. Likelihood ratio tests suggested differences in Year6 activity profiles pre and post-lockdown, with a new post-lockdown profile emerging characterised by higher LPA. The percentage of children in the least active profiles (where under 20% meet UK physical activity guidelines), rose post-lockdown, from 34% pre-COVID-19 to 50% in 2021 and 40% in 2022. We also saw gender and socioeconomic gaps widen, and increased separation between high and low physical activity levels. Children’s physical activity has changed post-COVID-19, in terms of who is being active and how. The impact varies by activity profile, which is influenced by gender and socio-economic position. A greater understanding of these differences and targeting of low active groups is needed to increase both individual and population levels of physical activity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0289344
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research [Public Health Research Programme – project 131847] ( The data for the pre-COVID comparator study 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 and Care Research Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West). RJ is partly supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR PHR Programme, NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Salway et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Structured keywords

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Comparison of children’s physical activity profiles before and after COVID-19 lockdowns: A latent profile analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this