This is a summary, written by members of the CITF Secretariat, of:

Li, X., Vanderloo, L.M., Maguire, J.L., Keown-Stoneman, C.D.G., Aglipay, M., Anderson, L.N., Cost, K.T., Charach, A., Vanderhout, S.M., Birken, C.S., TARGet Kids! Collaboration, 2021. Public health preventive measures and child health behaviours during COVID-19: a cohort study. Canadian Journal of Public Health. doi:10.17269/s41997-021-00549-w

The results and/or conclusions contained in the research do not necessarily reflect the views of all CITF members.

Dr. Jonathon Maguire and Dr. Catherine Birken from the CITF-funded TARGet Kids! collaboration in Ontario investigated the association between public health preventive measures related to COVID-19 and health behaviours and activities in children 10 years of age and younger. Recently published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, the manuscript confirmed a reduction in children’s time outdoors and an increase in screen time during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 when many of the public health recommendations – such as closing playgrounds – were implemented. The authors are calling for better evidence-informed prevention practices moving forward.

Key Points:

  • Certain public health preventive measures such as staying at home and limiting the number of visitors were associated with a decrease in time outdoors and an increase in screen time for children.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with a reduction of physical activity among Canadian children.
  • The authors are calling for evidence-informed prevention practices moving forward.

The study consisted of 256 children under the age of 10 and their caregivers who were asked about adherence to public health prevention measures (such as staying at home) and children’s daily activities. In addition to the overall decrease in time spent outdoors and an increase in screen time, the authors also observed that these changes were more prominent among girls compared to boys, and among children aged five years and up, compared to the younger children.

The authors recommend that community leaders ensure future public health recommendations are based on evidence, are clear, and ensure children and families can participate in safe outdoor activities that support social interactions and promote movement and well-being during a pandemic. With decades worth of research supporting the importance of physical activity and outdoor time for children’s health, mental health, and learning, the authors also urge the development of safe child-centred programming, even during a pandemic, such as camps, activities and sports, to support the physical, social and emotional well-being of young children.