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COVID-19 Related Parent Anxiety & Children's Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviour

Updated: Mar 16

McCormack GR, Doyle-Baker PK, Petersen JA, Ghoneim D.

COVID-19 and Families


The public health emergency response to COVID-19 has required Canadians to take steps to reduce the spread of the virus including practicing physical distancing, restrictions on non-essential domestic and international travel and self-isolating/quarantine requirements (1). These steps have coincided with a number of additional measures including intermittent mandatory closures of educational and daycare facilities, non-essential businesses, and private and public recreations facilities such as playgrounds and sports fields. The public health measures have created changes to daily routines and physical activity patterns (2). In Canada, children in particular have experienced reduced physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (3). Parents also may experience increased stress and anxiety due to managing changes to their work, family life, school and financial pressures (4) that could influence their children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour (5,6). A recent study sought to describe the physical activity and sedentary behaviour among children during the COVID-19 pandemic and to explore the association between parent anxiety towards COVID-19 and the physical activity and sedentary behaviour of their children.


COVID-19 Related Parent Anxiety and Children’s Behaviour

Between April and June of 2020, a random sample of adults living in north central Calgary completed an online questionnaire, including 345 parents of at least one school-aged child between the ages of 5 and 11 years. Participants were asked to report their perceived seriousness and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 as well as any perceived changes in their child’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Some parents reported being extremely or very anxious about COVID-19 (36%) and changes in their child’s behaviour were noted. In particular, 60% of parents reported increased tv-watching, 56% reported increased computer or gaming time, 76% reported increased screen-time and 50% reported a decrease in play at parks or in public spaces among their children. Physical activity of children in the home was found to either increase (49%) or remain unchanged (33%). Additionally, children of parents who reported high anxiety towards COVID-19 were less likely to visit parks and more likely to engage in over 2 hours of computer/game time.


These findings demonstrate that the COVID-19 public health emergency response measures implemented during the first few months of the pandemic affected children’s physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour. Anxiety related to COVID-19 among parents may have contributed to the changes in children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour. As emergency public health measures continue to alter the daily lives of parents, it is important to look toward developing strategies that support both parent’s and children’s health and well-being.


Suggested Citation:McCormack GR, Doyle-Baker PK, Petersen JA, Ghoneim D. Parent anxiety and perceptions of their child’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic. Preventative Medicine Reports (2020). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2020.101275


Written by Calli Naish, BAS and Dalia Ghoneim, MPH, CSEP-CEP; Graphic by Emma Chong and Dalia Ghoneim

Posted on March 16, 2021

References:

  1. Government of Alberta. Help prevent the spread. https://www.alberta.ca/prevent-the-spread.aspx [accessed February 11, 2021]. 2021.

  2. Chen, P., Mao, L., Nassis, G. P., Harmer, P., Ainsworth, B. E., & Li, F. Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV): The need to maintain regular physical activity while taking precautions. Journal of sport and health science; 2020. 9(2), 103-104.

  3. Moore, S. A., Faulkner, G., Rhodes, R. E., Brussoni, M., Chulak-Bozzer, T., Ferguson, L. J., ... & Tremblay, M. S. Impact of the COVID-19 virus outbreak on movement and play behaviours of Canadian children and youth: a national survey. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity; 2020. 17(1), 1-11.

  4. Park, C. L., Russell, B. S., Fendrich, M., Finkelstein-Fox, L., Hutchison, M., & Becker, J. Americans’ COVID-19 stress, coping, and adherence to CDC guidelines. Journal of general internal medicine; 2020. 35(8), 2296-2303.

  5. Fegert, J. M., Vitiello, B., Plener, P. L., & Clemens, V. Challenges and burden of the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID- 19) pandemic for child and adolescent mental health: a narrative review to highlight clinical and research needs in the acute phase and the long return to normality. Child and adolescent psychiatry and mental health; 2020. 14, 1-11.

  6. O'Connor, J., Brown, A. A qualitative study of ‘fear’ as a regulator of children's independent physical activity in the suburbs. Health & place; 2020. 24, 157-164.