Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the physical activity of Year 6 children and their parents: Identifying scalable actions to mitigate adverse impacts & provide rapid evidence to policy makers


National Institute for Health (NIHR) Public Health Research (PHR) Ref. NIHR131847

What is the research question?

How has the physical activity of children and parents changed because of the coronavirus, and what can be done to help more children and families to be active?

What is the problem?

Many children and adults do not take part in enough physical activity. Levels of physical activity are likely to be lower because of coronavirus pandemic, because changes have been made to all aspects of society that would normally provide physical activity opportunities including school, sport clubs and work. The impact of these changes has not been the same for everyone. Families who have less access to resources are likely to have been more affected by the changes. However, current information is very limited as surveys do not measure physical activity well and are very difficult for children to complete. The surveys also provide little information on what schools and communities could do to help increase physical activity while minimising spread of the virus. We also do not know how much each different approach costs or how easy/hard it would be to put in place in nationwide.

What is the aim of the research?

This project will work with schools and families to see how physical activity has changed because of the coronavirus and what can be done to help more children and families to be active. We have worked with children, parents, teachers, local public health teams, and national physical activity leaders to design a study that will help us to answer these questions.

How will this be achieved?

We will use devices called accelerometers (very accurate activity monitors), to see how active Year 6 children and their parents are during the 2020-2021 school year. We will do this in up to 50 primary schools in Southwest England. We will compare the physical activity of the new group of children and families to information that we collected from the same schools using the same methods, 3 years ago. We will look at all the things that families, schools and communities are doing and their cost to see what is helping to promote physical activity and what could be shared nationwide. Then, we will conduct interviews with parents and school staff and focus groups with children to understand how their physical activity may have changed and what families, schools, and governments could do to help them to be more active. Finally, we will repeat the process during the 2021-2022 school year to see if things have improved and any further changes that could be made.

Who is leading the research?

Prof Russell Jago, Professor of Paediatric Physical Activity & Public Health, Centre for Exercise, Nutrition & Health Sciences, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol.

Further information:

Prof Russell Jago

For more information or to get involved in this project, please contact

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.