Less physical activity and more screen time impact children’s mental health during pandemic

Few equations are as simple as the results of a survey measuring the habits of 1,000 children during COVID-19: More physical activity and less screen time led to better mental health.

The study, published this month in JAMA Network Open, takes a snapshot of the daily activities of children aged 6 to 17 during the period October 22 to November 2, 2020. Meanwhile, a third wave of new COVID- 19 cases in the United States began to take shape and most of the students surveyed were learning either entirely online (50.6%) or in a hybrid system (27.2%).

Families surveyed also reported a daily average of 4.4 hours of recreational screen time for their children – a figure the study notes is consistent with most pre-pandemic estimates.

I think what the pandemic forced on families was screen time was needed for school in most cases. Screen time was also sometimes the only means of social interaction for children. Thus, recreational screen time was more than optional in some cases. “

Dr Pooja Tandon, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine and lead author of the study

Hours spent in front of screens, coupled with social restrictions imposed by the pandemic, have hampered opportunities to get out and be active. Only 195 of 1,000 children reported 60 minutes of daily physical activity, the standard recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall, on average, children achieved the daily activity goal of 60 minutes 3.9 days per week.

“If you’re spending time in front of a screen, you’re not doing anything else, and that something else could be physical activity,” Tandon said. “It could be sleeping. It could be interacting with other humans, loved ones. And all of these things are considered good for your sanity.”

Overall, 143 of the 1,000 children in the study were diagnosed or being assessed for anxiety (13.7%), 110 for depression (10.4%), 160 for ADHD ( 15%) and 116 for a behavior problem (11.4%). The researchers found that less physical activity and more screen time were associated with a higher rate of each condition, across all age groups in the study.

The investigation also took into account stressors related to the pandemic, including family members being essential healthcare workers, family exposure to COVID-19-related illness or death, l food insecurity, loss of income and loss of health insurance. Tandon said the children most affected by these stressors were, in turn, less engaged in physical activity and spent more screen time than their peers.

“I recognize that this is an incredibly difficult time for parents, and I think there are opportunities as families for us to prioritize these health behaviors, knowing that it is important for physical health. and mental health, ”Tandon said.

Tandon, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, conducted the study with three colleagues from UW: Chuan Zhou and Emily Kroshus, associate research professors in pediatrics, and Erin Schoenfelder Gonzalez, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Another researcher, Ashleigh Johnson, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Survey results for the study were compiled using a nationally representative sample generated by data analytics company YouGov. Children aged 11 to 17 reported their physical activity and screen time, and answered questions about their mental health. Parents also submitted reports on environmental stressors and mental health assessments. Parents of children aged 6 to 10 have reported all measurements on behalf of their children.

Comments are closed.