Reduced physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour: the damage on young people during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Alison Owen

Research carried out at Staffordshire University has looked at the impact in young people of a reduction in physical activity and an increase in sedentary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research was carried out by Staffordshire University Health Psychology lecturer, Dr Alison Owen, alongside Dr Kathryn Bould, a lecturer in Psychology at Liverpool John Moores university.

The research involved looking at the results of studies published since the start of the pandemic, to bring together the findings of the pieces of research looking at physical activity and sedentary behaviour in young people during the pandemic. Stockwell et al. (2021) define physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscle that results in energy expenditure, and can include exercising, walking, gardening and doing household chores. Sedentary behaviours can be defined as any waking behaviour with an energy expenditure of ≤1.5 metabolic equivalents while in a sitting or reclining posture, including watching TV, video gaming and computer use (Stockwell et al., 2021).

The studies showed that children’s physical activity behaviours have lessened significantly during these times, while their sedentary behaviours have risen significantly. For example one study (Moore et al., 2020), found that only 4.8% (2.8% girls, 6.5% boys) of children and 0.6% (0.8% girls, 0.5% boys) of youth were meeting combined movement behaviour guidelines during COVID-19 restrictions. They found that children had lower physical activity levels, less outside time, higher sedentary behaviours (including leisure screen time), and more sleep during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In their report, Dr Owen and Dr Bould made some suggestions for ways to encourage and foster physical activity in both children and their families, for example by showing people different ways of staying active and offering other opportunities for physical activity, as well as ensuring the feeling of staying safe and being protected.

The work has been published in the British Journal of Child Health. If you are interested in reading the full article, or have any questions about the study then please contact Dr Alison Owen –


Moore, S., Faulkner, G., & Rhodes R (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 virus outbreak on movement and play behaviours of Canadian children and youth: a national survey. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 17(1), 85.

Owen, A. & Bould, K. (2021). Reduced physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour: the damage on young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.British Journal of Child Health, 2(2), 64-68.

Stockwell, S., Trott, M. & Tully, M. (2021). Changes in physical activity and sedentary behaviours from before to during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown: a systematic review. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine. 7:e000960.

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