COVID-19 has impacted those due to start school in the coming year, UK research finds
Preschoolers had their eating, activity, and sleep routines disrupted during COVID-19 related lockdowns, which may be detrimental to child health and development, a UK study has suggested.
Although not undertaken in the Australian context, the findings are applicable to the experiences of Australian children, particularly those living in Victoria and New South Wales, and have been based on parental perceptions of the impacts on their children.
The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and undertaken by academics from the Universities of Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow, has been published on the preprint server MedRxiv, and provides important insights into the impact of lockdown restrictions on health behaviours of preschool children in the UK.
Twenty parents in the South West and West Midlands took part in the interviews. Half the sample were from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and half lived in the most deprived quintile.
The researchers explored how ‘lockdown’ and its subsequent easing changed young children’s everyday activities, eating and sleep habits to gain insight into the impact for health and wellbeing.
While some positive changes were reported, there were wide-spread reports of lack of routines, habits and boundaries which, at least in the short-term, were likely to have been detrimental for child health and development.
“With on-going restrictions likely, families need support to establish revised routines which maintain healthy behaviours without increasing parental burden or guilt,” Dr Beki Langford, Research Fellow at the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences, said.
Parents reported that children ate more snack foods while locked down, had reduced physical activity, and increased screen time, which some linked with difficulties in getting children to sleep.
To support in managing these challenges during lock down, researchers suggested that guidance and support for families during times of COVID-19 restrictions may be valuable to help parents and children to maintain healthy activity, eating, screen-time and sleeping routines, protect child health and ensure unhealthy habits are not adopted.
The research compliments the recent Ipsos Mori report from the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which included an online survey of 1,000 parents of birth to five-year-olds in October 2020. The survey focused on parents’ experiences of the preceding six months during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most surveys exploring COVID-19 impacts on children and young people have focused on mental health and wellbeing, and on older children and young people. Less attention has been paid to younger (preschool) children or how COVID restrictions might impact health behaviours such as physical activity, sedentary behaviour, dietary intake and sleep, making the work especially significant to those working in early childhood education and care (ECEC).
To access the preprint paper, please see here.