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Exercise May Improve Child Mental Health During Pandemic

In addition, more screen time associated with higher total mental health-related difficulties for younger and older children

FRIDAY, Oct. 1, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Physical activity and less screen time are associated with better mental health outcomes for children during the pandemic, according to a study published online Oct. 1 in JAMA Network Open.

Pooja S. Tandon, M.D., M.P.H., from Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional survey involving 500 children aged 6 to 10 years and 500 children and adolescents aged 11 to 17 years. The association of physical activity and screen time with mental health of U.S. children was examined during the pandemic.

The researchers found that 195 children (20.9 percent) reported at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Children reported 4.4 hours of recreational screen time per day and a mean of 3.9 days/week with at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. There were significant associations seen for COVID-19 stressors with higher total difficulties in the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire for younger and older groups. For younger children, engaging in physical activity seven days/week was associated with fewer externalizing symptoms. Among older children, engaging in one to six and seven days/week of physical activity was associated with lower total difficulties, fewer externalizing symptoms, and fewer internalizing symptoms. For younger and older children, there was an association observed for more screen time with higher total difficulties.

“Although much of the immediate health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic have focused on infection and its sequelae, this cross-sectional study highlights the critical need to also address the short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic on the mental health of children,” the authors write.

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