October 5, 2021

Association of physical activity, screen time with children’s mental health during COVID-19

By: Judy Mathias
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Editor's Note

This study from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and University of Washington finds that more physical activity and less screen time were associated with better mental health for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A survey was conducted from October 22 to November 2, 2020, of 547 parents of children aged 6 to 10 years and 535 parent-child dyads with children/adolescents aged 11 to 17 years and matched down to 500 children per cohort.


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Of the 1,000 children/adolescents included in the analysis: 195 (20.9%) reported at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, 90 (8.4%) reported zero days with at least 60 minutes of physical activity, and all reported a mean of 4.4 hours per day of recreational screen time.

Overall, 143 (13.7%) had anxiety, 110 (10.4%) were depressed, 160 (15%) had ADHD, and 116 (11.4%) had behavioral problems.

After adjusting for COVID-19 stressors, engaging in 7 days per week (vs 0) of physical activity was associated with fewer externalizing symptoms in younger children. For older children, engaging in 1 to 6 and 7 days per week (vs 0) of physical activity was associated with lower total difficulties, fewer externalizing symptoms, and fewer internalizing symptoms.

More screen time was associated with higher total difficulties in younger and older children, regardless of gender.

The results show there is a critical need for multisector approaches to provide opportunities for physical activity, including sports and outdoor recreation for all children, the researchers say.

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