Background: COVID-19 school closures pose a threat to children’s wellbeing, but no COVID-19-related studies have assessed children’s behaviours over multiple years .
Objective: To examine children’s obesogenic behaviours during spring and summer of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to previous data collected from the same children during the same calendar period in the 2 years prior.
Methods: Physical activity and sleep data were collected via Fitbit Charge-2 in 231 children (7-12 years) over 6 weeks during spring and summer over 3 years. Parents reported their child’s screen time and dietary intake via a survey on 2-3 random days/week.
Results: Children’s behaviours worsened at a greater rate following the pandemic onset compared to pre-pandemic trends. During pandemic spring, sedentary behaviour increased (+79 min; 95% CI = 60.6, 97.1) and MVPA decreased (-10 min, 95% CI = -18.2, -1.1) compared to change in previous springs (2018-2019). Sleep timing shifted later (+124 min; 95% CI = 112.9, 135.5). Screen time (+97 min, 95% CI = 79.0, 115.4) and dietary intake increased (healthy: +0.3 foods, 95% CI = 0.2, 0.5; unhealthy: +1.2 foods, 95% CI = 1.0, 1.5). Similar patterns were observed during summer.
Conclusions: Compared to pre-pandemic measures, children’s PA, sedentary behaviour, sleep, screen time, and diet were adversely altered during the COVID-19 pandemic. This may ultimately exacerbate childhood obesity.
Senior Scientist, CHEO Research Institute