New study aims to understand how the pandemic is impacting the movement behaviours of toddlers and preschoolers

Disruptions to daily routines due to the public health restrictions put in place to flatten the COVID-19 curve are most likely impacting how much Canadian children are moving throughout a 24-hour period. 

Researchers in the University of Alberta’s Behavioural Epidemiology Lab are conducting a Canada-wide survey to find out just how much of an impact these measures are having for families, particularly for toddlers and preschoolers. The study, which comprises two short surveys taken at two different times, will gauge how much Canadian children ages one to four years move before, during and after the pandemic.

“Closures to childcares, parks, playgrounds and recreation facilities and cancellations of organized activity may limit activity opportunities for Canadian children and make it more difficult for parents to support their children’s movements,” said Valerie Carson, a physical activity epidemiologist in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation. “The impact of which can lead to a reliance on sedentary activities such as screen time.”

Less movement and increased sedentary behaviours may be indirectly impacting sleeping behaviours of toddlers and preschoolers, which can add another layer to an already stressful time, said Carson, who was a key contributor to Canada's 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Early Years

Carson noted that while age-specific recommendations are in place, the overall message is the same—move more, sit less, and ensure an appropriate amount of sleep is taking place. 

The positive impacts of healthy movement behaviours may help parents and children handle new stresses and increased anxiety associated with the current pandemic, however Carson and her team are very aware that meeting recommendations during a health crisis can be a big struggle.

“We appreciate this is a very challenging time for many parents, and we hope this study can provide insight on how to support them and their families in striking a healthy balance of moving, sitting and sleeping,” she said.

The survey can be accessed here: https://redcap.ualberta.ca/surveys/?s=D7M7DP8AXN

Carson added that while this study is specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, results may be applicable to other environmental scenarios such as poor-air quality stemming from forest fires and extreme cold-weather spells that occur during winter months.