The modern social context, especially as far as public health is concerned, is closely associated with the recent global pandemic. The present research proposal focuses on the investigation of the phenomenon of physical activity among school children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first section of the proposal, the literature review, addresses the available literature on the matter, suggesting that the COVID-19 outbreak is a serious threat to people’s economic and emotional stability. The methodology section investigates the possible approaches to the project. The method chosen for the research concerns a quantitative correlational study with a non-probability snowball sampling method. The primary focus of data collection will concern self-administered online questionnaires targeted at school-aged children. The conclusions drawn from the literature review indicate the potential findings of the research, appealing to the possible negative correlation patterns in which the increase of the COVID-19 pandemic scope decreases the average rates of physical activity among schoolchildren.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has divided the global population’s lifestyle into the pre-and post-pandemic, with the latter placing major emphasis on digitalizing one’s habits and promoting efficient communication while maintaining social distancing. Hence, there currently exists a demand for defining the extent to which online education and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have affected schoolchildren’s physical activity levels. The core hypothesis of the present research concerns the idea that the current educational setting, social distancing, and lack of physical interactions such as commuting and real-life physical education (PE) lessons present a negative tendency in physical activity levels. The purpose of the literature review, for its part, is to outline and analyze the already existing research on the topic as well as to define the methodological patterns and core findings of the research data in question.
While focusing on the research topic in question, the present literature review includes a wide variety of takes on the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential impact on human life. Indeed, it is of utmost importance to define the causal link between the pandemic and lifestyle changes it has brought to people’s routines, mental states, and physical performance. To achieve this, the articles for the review were searched with the help of such keywords as “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” “pandemic,” “school children,” “physical activity,” and “mental health.” The primary databases used for the research included PubMed, Elsevier, Wiley, and Google Scholar. Hence, the topic area presented in the articles reviewed a deductive approach to the issue of the pandemic’s impact on children’s physical activity, as the broad topics of COVID-19 influence were narrowed down to the articles explicitly related to the issue in order to establish a broader picture of the research matter.
Impact of COVID-19 on Education
Prior to focusing on the separate aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on children, the primary concern was the children’s perception of education in the context of rapid adjustment to online learning patterns. Thus, in a mixed-method study conducted by Kanik (2021), the author attempted to explore the students’ perception of the new reality of online education. The results of such a study indicate that despite the positive tendency in terms of GPA and academic achievement, students were dissatisfied with the lack of access to on-campus studying and real-life interactions with educators and other students (Kanik, 2021). However, as far as the research on school children is concerned, the primary obstacle concerns the fact that little to no empirical data have been presented so far, with the predictions and information coming from expert reviews and editorials.
Thus, for example, a paper by Gupta & Jawanda (2020) outlines the positive and negative implications of COVID-19 on children based on the existing COVID-19-related scholarly research and commonly accepted scientific knowledge. Thus, instead of focusing on the children’s response to the pandemic, the data are drawn from the correlation between the socio-economic status disparity and access to education, claiming the pandemic to become a precedent to a new “social crisis in the making” (Lancker & Parolin, 2020, p. 243). Hence, it is reasonable to summarize that the overall context of the COVID-19 pandemic has an explicit effect on children’s access to education and its perception.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health and Physical Performance
Once the link between school performance and COVID-19 was established, the researchers started questioning the extent to which social isolation and socio-economic disparities could affect one’s mental health and physical performance. Thus, in research presented by Araby et al. (2021), the authors conducted a cross-sectional descriptive study by collecting and analyzing online questionnaires reported by parents. The findings revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the children’s sleeping and eating patterns, health conditions, frequency of aggressive behavioral swings, and focusing (Araby et al., 2021). However, while the study operates an extensive sample, its implications may be perceived as rather biased, as the data were reported by families without quantitative evidence on the decrease or disruption in sleeping patterns such as sleep duration or deep sleep phase patterns.
The Correlation Between Mental Health and Physical Activity in Adults and Children
The rest of the studies focusing on mental well-being in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic included an explicit correlation of one’s psychological distress and adherence to physical activity. For example, a cross-sectional study presented by Puccinelli et al. (2021) justifies a hypothesis that the prevalence of mood disorders and psychological distress is explicitly correlated with one’s physical activity rates during the quarantine, with people more engaged in physical activity experiencing lower levels of stress and fewer mood disorders. Another cross-sectional study presented by Alzahrani et al. (2021) indicates a positive correlation between people reporting a higher level of health-related quality of life and their involvement in the recommended level of physical activity during the pandemic. Both of these studies are not focused on children, and they are based on self-administered online questionnaire data.
In order to tackle the issue of children’s mental health and physical activity in the context of the pandemic, some researchers used parental reporting as a core data collection technique. Thus, Gilbert et al. (2021) conducted mixed-methods research by presenting online surveys to the school children’s parents. The findings of the study revealed that maintaining children’s physical activity levels was associated with the maintenance or improvement of children’s mental well-being during quarantine (Gilbert et al., 2021). For its part, the systematic review by Okuyama et al. (2021) addressed the studies, including online questionnaires filled directly by children either with or without parental guidance. The analysis of such primary research justified a positive correlation between physical activity and psychological health. One substantial flaw of such studies is their heavy reliance on self-administered online questionnaires that were mostly collected from parents on behalf of their children (Hu et al., 2021).
Physical Activity Rates During the Pandemic Among School Children
Finally, once the significance of physical activity in the context of the pandemic was established, the researchers began to dwell on the overall patterns of physical activity among adults and children during the pandemic. Thus, in a cross-sectional study by Bakhsh et al. (2020), the authors used self-administered online questionnaires to define how COVID-19 affected people’s dietary habits and physical activity rates. The results of the study revealed that more than 50% of respondents had a lower physical activity rate compared to the pre-pandemic context (Bakhsh et al., 2020).
However, unlike adults, children are not fully responsible for their physical health, as a major part of physical activity comes from the school curriculum and interaction with peers. For this reason, the researchers attempted to define how school closure affected school children’s health. Thus, in a literature review conducted by Tan (2021), the author estimates that prolonged school closures, although efficient at the beginning of the pandemic, eventually resulted in a significant reduction in children’s physical activity. In order to define the existing landscape of physical activity among school children, Pavlovic et al. (2021) presented a cohort study in which school PE teachers, administrators, and nurses were asked to complete an online survey concerning their impression of the existing PE requirements and physical activity rates in schools. Hence, almost 80% of the respondents claimed a rapid decrease in students’ physical activity rates during the pandemic catalyzed by a decrease in terms of PE requirements at schools (Pavlovic et al., 2021).
Similar results were identified in a quantitative study presented by Štveráková et al. (2021), in which the authors examined the physical activity rates of ninety-eight children. One of the benefits of this study was that nearly one-third of the responses were justified by the data recorded on children’s smartwatches or fitness trackers (Štveráková et al., 2021). Finally, the researchers questioned the extent to which structured physical activity encouraged by schools and extracurriculars was replaced by unstructured activity at home. Thus, both in a retrospective cohort study by Nathan et al. (2021) and a qualitative study by Pelletier et al. (2021), parents reported a shift from structured to unstructured physical activity at home and outdoors, with some of the parents perceiving such a change as positive.
COVID-19 and Positive Implications
However, despite an exhaustive list of evidence for the negative pandemic’s impact, some researchers outline beneficial implications. They include a lower carbon footprint, lower rates of other infectious disease transmissions, and a developing platform for public health promotion (Nelson, 2020). As a result, such public health domains as physical activity may become more popular with community members with the help of various health awareness initiatives and online training resources.
As far as both short- and far-reaching solutions are concerned, the primary option would be to open schools. According to the UK Department of Education (2020), opening schools shall become the top priority for governmental bodies across the globe to bridge the socio-economic gap catalyzed by the school closure. Additionally, in a qualitative expert review by Harrington & O’Reilly (2020), experts estimate that opening schools after such a crisis will require substantial human and financial resources. In the meantime, a cross-sectional study by Lanza et al. (2021) suggests that the reintroducing children to school parks should be considered an option to exercise physical activity while maintaining social distancing and minimizing the risk of infection.
Having closely considered scholarly literature on the matter of physical activity among school children during the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes evident that the former has a tremendous impact on people’s mental and physical health. The literature available on the matter, although frequently focused on children’s physical activity rates, lacks objectivity in terms of data collection. While the majority of data were collected among parents using self-administered questionnaires, the quality and relevance of the primary data may have been tampered with by the respondents. Such an approach to data collection is mostly motivated by the existing pandemic and restrictions in terms of real-life subject observation and data collection. Hence, while researchers draw attention to the issue of physical activity rate reduction in the context of the pandemic, more evidence is required regarding school children’s activity.
Having closely analyzed the concerns raised by the researchers over the past year, it becomes evident that most of the studies are rather limited in terms of time and resource accessibility. Indeed, the context of the COVID-19 pandemic has initiated a series of social changes that require almost immediate scholarly evaluation and intervention. According to Rochwerg et al. (2020), the quality of scholarly evidence presented at times of a health crisis is questionable, as instead of being guided by high-quality randomized control trials and large-scale observational studies, the data are generated from case studies and rapidly gathered quantitative research and expert opinion. In the context of the research topic of COVID-19 and its impact on school children’s physical activity rates, such a tendency of rapidity manifests itself in the researchers’ willingness to collect data from guardians rather than directly from children (Gilbert et al., 2021; Hu et al., 2021). Hence, the present research will prioritize shifting the focus from parental perception to collecting data from children.
The widespread use of self-administered questionnaires is another challenge in terms of working with the topic of physical activity rates. According to Elyazgi (2018), using parents to undergo interviews and fill in questionnaires about their children is not a beneficial way to gain insights into an issue. Instead, it is better to employ communication with children as a primary methodological tool for primary data collection. As Elyazgi (2018) indicates, such tools as interviews and self-administered questionnaires are more applicable to children aged six and older, with children being some of the most beneficial interview and survey subjects due to high levels of responsiveness. Hence, given the research focus on school-aged children and the time limitations of the project, the methodology of the study will concern a quantitative correlational study. It will be focused on the evaluation of the children’s perception of physical activity during the pandemic in relation to a series of factors and developing a framework of improving the physical activity rates.
Data Collection and Analysis
In a given mixed-methods study design, the first part of the research will be dedicated to the collection of primary data with the help of self-administered questionnaires adapted for adolescents. The questionnaires will concern children’s physical activity rates both prior to and during the pandemic, along with the questions related to the possible reasons behind lower or higher physical activity rates, including mental well-being, amount of free time, attitude towards school closure, access to physical activities, and the amount of time spent outdoors. The questions for the survey will be created on the basis of the HomeSTEAD’s physical activity, and screen media practices and beliefs survey and adapted according to the respondents’ understanding by using non-ambiguous statements, inclusive language, and simple evaluation pattern (e.g., providing a 1-10 scale with emojis) (Vaughn et al., 2019). Using descriptive statistics, mean, standard deviation, variance, and range will be calculated for the physical activity rate and possible reasons for its modification.
Once the data is collected, a correlation coefficient analysis will be employed by calculating an r-value for every potential correlation ground, including mental well-being, amount of free time, attitude towards school closure, access to physical activity, and the amount of time spent outdoors. The correlation coefficient will help define the potential correlation tendency between the factors and will subsequently contribute to the development of an intervention framework to improve physical activity among schoolchildren. Thus, the development of a physical activity promotion framework will be another part of the study.
As far as the sample is concerned, the method of non-probability snowball sampling will be mostly used for the research. Although incapable of objectively portraying the generalized population samples, this method of sampling is highly efficient in terms of given time frames. In order to reach approximately fifty respondents for the research, a fellow teacher in the area will be asked to participate in the study by sending out an online survey to the children from the classes they teach. For the sake of convenience, the survey will be created on the SurveyMonkey platform, as it will allow instant access to the completed questionnaires and frequency distribution.
In order to justify the tangible results of the study, it is of paramount importance to outline the hypotheses of the research:
- H0 – There is no correlation between school children’s physical activity and such COVID-19 implications as mental well-being, school closure, access to physical activity, and outdoor time.
- H1 – There is a correlation between school children’s physical activity and such COVID-19 implications as mental well-being, school closure, access to physical activity, and outdoor time.
Based on the results outlined in the literature review, it is highly likely that the null hypothesis will be initially rejected, constituting a correlational link between school children’s physical activity patterns and the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter will be perceived not as a virus per se, as the complications of coronavirus on the human body and activity are highly complex and individual. Instead, it will be viewed as a social phenomenon that takes a toll on people’s mental health, lifestyle habits, and socio-economic obstacles to proper public health and healthy lifestyle promotion.
Hence, it would be reasonable to assume that since the COVID-19 outbreak tackles almost all the aforementioned life aspects, the causal link will be established as a result of the intervention. For example, there is exhaustive evidence on the matter of mental health complications. The COVID-19 pandemic has an impact on people as it contributes to the lack of access to therapy services, socioeconomic vulnerability, and increased anxiety levels (Torales et al., 2020). For its part, mental health and overall well-being correlate with the quality and quantity of physical activity among people. However, while there is evidence on how physical activity is capable of improving one’s mental condition during the pandemic, no research shows the extent to which mental condition worsening may contribute to decreasing physical activity rates (Puccinelli et al., 2021). For this reason, the correlation between the pandemic and lower physical activity rates, although predictable, needs clarification in terms of causes and implications.
Currently, there exists evidence that indicates the pandemic’s impact on physical activity, mental health, and access to educational resources, including physical education. However, the majority of scholarly data either focuses on adults or collects data from parents and guardians speaking on behalf of their children. According to Elyazgi (2018), “children too have strong opinions, and it could be different from their guardian’s” (p. 312). As a result, the expected outcome of the present research will also concern the higher quality of data collected on the matter due to direct communication with children and their stance on current physical activity rates. The content of children’s responses is expected to differ from previously gathered data. Indeed, parents sometimes have a tendency to exaggerate or undermine the significance of certain issues because they cannot be emotionally objective when speaking on behalf of their children. Undeniably, collecting data from children will need extra effort in terms of questionnaire adjustment and instructions on how to submit a survey, but the outcomes of this study are likely to present more insight into promoting healthy and physically active behavior among adolescents in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The methods used in the studies discussed include mixed-methods cross-sectional studies (5 studies), qualitative studies using semi-structured interviews (1 study), cohort studies (2 studies), literature and systematic reviews (1 and 2 studies, respectively), inherently quantitative studies (1 study), expert reviews (2 studies), and descriptive studies (2 studies). Among all the aforementioned research techniques, the most popular approach with the authors was a cross-sectional mixed-methods design. Such a phenomenon presupposes that the researchers recruited a sample at a certain point in time in order to collect primary data using both quantitative and qualitative approaches to their analysis.
Undeniably, such an approach to data collection is justified by the research environment, as the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020 does not allow for conducting a full-scale longitude study, and the process of sample recruitment is rather limited, given the situation. As a result, conducting a cross-sectional study by collecting information through online surveys and questionnaires is the most suitable approach to safe information processing. However, as far as the quality of the data is concerned, it becomes evident that such an approach to evidence systematization is rather unreliable, as it depends mostly on the respondents’ subjective perception of physical activity status. The physical activity rates were partly justified in one study that tracked the indicators of children’s steps with the help of smartwatches and fitness trackers. Hence, it may be concluded that while a cross-sectional mixed-methods design is rightfully the most suitable, there is a need to add measurable variables to the questionnaire templates. In such a way, the researchers will calculate tangible data along with the qualitative aspects of physical activity perceptions among school children and their families.