Summer homework for families? Go outside and play!

National survey says pandemic has made it challenging for kids to maintain healthy activities

- July 10, 2020

Infographic for the national study on youth activity during COVID-19.
Infographic for the national study on youth activity during COVID-19.

A national survey commissioned by ParticipACTION and led by Sarah Moore of Dal’s Faculty of Health shows that restricted access to playgrounds, schools, childcare, playdates, and instructions to “stay home” have made it more challenging than ever for kids to develop and maintain healthy movement behaviour habits.

In April, one month after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, less than 3 per cent of Canadian youth ages 5-17 were meeting the minimum recommendations in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep — in contrast to 15 per cent before the health crisis.

Dr. Moore, assistant professor in the School of Health and Human Performance in the Faculty of Health and the lead author of the paper, suggests that the survey findings can guide summer “homework” for families.  

“This pandemic has been extremely difficult for families, but also a time for children and their parents to reconnect through play, physical activity, and the outdoors,” she says. “Take some time together this summer to get outside and be active – it may help to mitigate the negative effects of this crisis for you and your children.”

The study found that parent encouragement and support and family dog ownership were positively associated with healthy movement behaviours.  

The importance of physical activity

Over 1,500 Canadian parents responded to the survey that assessed COVID-19-related changes in their child’s movement and play behaviours. The national study partnered researchers from Outdoor Play Canada, ParticipACTION, and several universities from across Canada.

The first of several scholarly papers from the research shows that grades for physical activity, screen time, and 24-hour movement behaviours would all be “F” during the COVID-19 lockdown. During the restrictions 18 per cent were meeting the physical activity guideline, 11 per cent were meeting the screen time guideline and 71 per cent were meeting the sleep guideline – with only 2.6 per cent meeting the overall guidelines.

“This survey showed that children and youth had lower physical activity levels, less outdoor time, higher leisure screen time and more sleep during the outbreak” said Dr. Mark Tremblay, chair of Outdoor Play Canada, chief scientific officer for the ParticipACTION Report Card and senior scientist at the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa.

“The rapid deterioration in healthy lifestyle behaviours from already low levels reminds us of the delicate balance required between efforts to prevent disease transmission and those to promote healthy behaviours. Summer homework for many children and families should be to recalibrate healthy lifestyles.”

These findings show that restoring and improving healthy physical activity and sedentary behaviours, facilitated by an increase in outdoor time, while adhering to public health guidance to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 is important, necessary, and achievable.

Recommendations from the 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card to help families get more active are available at All parents and children are strongly advised to follow the current public health guidelines in their area to limit COVID-19 transmission.

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