Screen-viewing behaviours of children before and after the 2020-21 COVID-19 lockdowns in the UK: a mixed methods study

Ruth Salway*, Robert Walker, Kate Sansum, Danielle House, Lydia Emm-Collison, Tom Reid, Katie Breheny, Joanna G Williams, Frank de Vocht, William Hollingworth, Charlie Foster, Russell Jago

*Corresponding author for this work

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

7 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to increased screen-viewing among children, especially during strict periods of lockdown. However, the extent to which screen-viewing patterns in UK school children have changed post lockdowns is unclear. The aim of this paper is to examine how screen-viewing changed in 10-11-year-old children over the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic, how this compares to before the pandemic, and the influences on screen-viewing behaviour.

METHODS: This is a mixed methods study with 10-11-year-olds from 50 schools in the Greater Bristol area, UK. Cross-sectional questionnaire data on minutes of weekday and weekend television (TV) viewing and total leisure screen-viewing were collected pre-COVID-19 in 2017-18 (N = 1,296) and again post-lockdowns in 2021 (N = 393). Data were modelled using Poisson mixed models, adjusted for age, gender, household education and seasonality, with interactions by gender and household education. Qualitative data were drawn from six focus groups (47 children) and 21 one-to-one parent interviews that explored screen-viewing behaviour during the pandemic and analysed using the framework method.

RESULTS: Total leisure screen-viewing was 11% (95% CI: 12%-18%) higher post-lockdown compared to pre-COVID-19 on weekdays, and 8% (95% CI: 6%-10%) on weekends, equating to around 12-15 min. TV-viewing (including streaming) was higher by 68% (95% CI: 63%-74%) on weekdays and 80% (95% CI: 75%-85%) on weekend days. Differences in both were higher for girls and children from households with lower educational attainment. Qualitative themes reflected an unavoidable increase in screen-based activities during lockdowns, the resulting habitualisation of screen-viewing post-lockdown, and the role of the parent in reducing post-2020/21 lockdown screen-viewing.

CONCLUSIONS: Although screen-viewing was higher post-lockdown compared to pre-COVID-19, the high increases reported during lockdowns were not, on average, sustained post-lockdown. This may be attributed to a combination of short-term fluctuations during periods of strict restrictions, parental support in regulating post-lockdown behaviour and age-related, rather than COVID-19-specific, increases in screen-viewing. However, socio-economic differences in our sample suggest that not all families were able to break the COVID-19-related adoption of screen-viewing, and that some groups may need additional support in managing a healthy balance of screen-viewing and other activities following the lockdowns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116
Pages (from-to)116
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Early online date17 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 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-19 study (B-Proact1v) 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. Funders had no involvement in data analysis, data interpretation or writing of the paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).

Structured keywords

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


  • Female
  • Humans
  • Child
  • Computers
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Pandemics/prevention & control
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom/epidemiology
  • Television


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