Perceived changes in lifestyle behaviours and in mental health and wellbeing of elementary school children during the first COVID-19 lockdown in Canada

Elsevier, Public Health, Volume 202, January 2022
Maximova K., Khan M.K.A., Dabravolskaj J., Maunula L., Ohinmaa A., Veugelers P.J.

Objectives: The closure of schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 prompted concerns of deteriorating lifestyle behaviours, mental health, and wellbeing of children, particularly those in socioeconomically disadvantaged settings. We assessed changes in lifestyle behaviours (physical activity, screen time, eating habits and bed/wake-up times), mental health and wellbeing during the first lockdown in Spring 2020 as perceived by school children from disadvantaged settings, and examined determinants of these changes. Study design: Cross-sectional study. Methods: We surveyed 1095 grade 4 to 6 students (age 9–12 years) from 20 schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities in northern Canada. Students reported on changes in lifestyle behaviours, mental health and wellbeing during the lockdown. Determinants of these perceived changes were examined in multivariable regression models. Results: A majority of students reported declines in physical activity, having late bed/wake-up times, and modest improvements in mental health and wellbeing. Many students reported increases rather than decreases in screen time and snacking. Positive attitudes toward being active, eating healthy, going to sleep on time and being healthy were strongly associated with maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviours during the lockdown. Positive attitudes toward active and healthy living and healthy lifestyle behaviours were associated with maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing during the lockdown. Conclusions: The considerable changes in lifestyle behaviors, superimposed on the pre-existing burden of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, put this generation of children at increased risk for future chronic disease. Findings call for effective health promotion of active and healthy lifestyles to benefit both physical and mental health.