Bradford Children’s Physical Activity during COVID-19 – the importance of being outdoors 


 by Dr Daniel Bingham and Dr Sally Barber on behalf of the Bradford COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Group

The Bradford COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Group have examined changes in children’s physical activity levels from before COVID-19 to during the first national lockdown in March 2020.  We have also explored the factors that explain why some children in Bradford were sufficiently active (60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity) and why others were not. Here, we will share our learning and discuss what this means for COVID-19 recovery plans.We carried out a survey with children in the Born in Bradford cohort study and found that the percentage of children being sufficiently active for their health and development had dropped by 40% from before the out-break of COVID-19 to during the first lockdown (March – June 2020). We also found that more children from a White British ethnic group (34%) reported being physically active every day compared to their peers from Pakistani Heritage backgrounds (23%). The main reason for the difference between the ethnic groups was because more Pakistani Heritage children (40%) were not usually leaving the home environment (house/flat/garden/yard) compared to White British children (20%). Not leaving the home environment predicted the odds of whether children were physically active enough or not, for their health and development even after accounting for, child’s ethnicity, index of multiple deprivation, age, and gender.

It is unsurprising but never the less very concerning, that the number of children reaching physical activity guidelines decreased during the covid-19 lockdown.  The ‘systems’ that children lived in drastically changed; usual, everyday opportunities to be physically active (active travel to school, playtimes, physical education, after school activities, play in parks and playgrounds, playing with friends and organised sports) were no longer available and the government told everyone to stay at home. It is likely that throughout the winter months of 2020-2021 with ongoing movement restrictions and a further two lockdowns that children’s physical activity levels will have dropped even further, compounded by short daylight hours and cold weather. What is of further concern are the stark ethnic inequalities that we found, Pakistani Heritage children were less likely to leave the home and therefore less likely to be physical activity.  

It is well established that physical activity behaviours track from young childhood, into adolescence than into adulthood, and we do not know what the long term impact of this year of disrupted physical activity will have on the physical health and wellbeing of children as they grow up. However, what we can do is work to minimise the risks of ill health though inactivity as we emerge out of COVID.   Physical activity is a great place to start for COVID recovery, it is positive, energising and has a multitude of benefits ranging from physical health and mental wellbeing, to advancing educational attainment and improving community cohesion.

Our study’s findings indicate how important being outside is for being physically active and we need to support children and families, especially those of Pakistani Heritage, to get outdoors and be active.  We will need to build confidence in communities, make streets, parks and green spaces safe, attractive accessible places to play and be active, along with ensuring that environments are engaging, fun and neighbourhoods are suitable and safe to travel actively; but also we need to aim for all families, children and the organisations children attend (i.e. schools, after school clubs, religious settings) have the knowledge, skills, motivation and can and want to provide opportunities for children to be active every day.In Bradford, we are fortunate to have the Sport England funded Join Us Move Play (JUMP) Programme which is part of the national Local Delivery Pilot programme.  It is taking a whole systems place-based approach to support children and young people to be physically activity. Being active outdoors is a key component of JU:MP and we will learn and share though the programme what works to get children and families outdoors and active as restrictions are lifted and recovery from COVID begins.

Please check out the work of JU:MP on Twitter: @JoinUsMovePlay

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