COVID-19 pandemic and changes in children's physical activity in a rural US community: a mixed methods study. Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVES: To examine differences in rural community children's moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and participation in out-of-school activities from fall 2019 to fall 2020 and explore enacted PA opportunity modifications post initial COVID-19 disruption. DESIGN: Mixed methods study using the validated Youth Activity Profile (YAP), administrator reports and stakeholder surveys and semistructured interviews. SETTING: Children and community stakeholders from one rural US Great Plains community in the state of Nebraska were recruited. PARTICIPANTS: Third through fifth graders in fall 2019 (n=144) and fall 2020 (n=174) reported MVPA and participation in out-of-school activities using the YAP. School administrators reported weekly physical education (PE) and recess minutes. Community stakeholders reported pandemic-related changes in community social structures in semistructured interviews (n=4) and surveys (n=19). RESULTS: Average daily MVPA minutes increased from 2019 to 2020 (75.0 vs 81.3, SE=1.6, p<0.05). Minutes of MVPA increased during: school hours (MD=2.7, SE=0.5, p<0.5); out-of-school time on weekdays (MD=3.9, SE=1.3, p<0.5); and on weekends (MD=5.5, SE=2.4, p<0.5). On average, fewer children participated in youth sport (42.5% vs 47.2%), youth clubs (10.3% vs 16.0%) and other out-of-school activities (24.1% vs 38.2%) in 2020, compared with 2019. Weekly PE/recess minutes increased from 208.3 to 241.7 from 2019 to 2020. Stakeholder surveys revealed community-driven modifications to PA opportunities, and interviews suggested children played outside more frequently, especially when school was closed and out-of-school activities were shut down. CONCLUSIONS: Increased minutes of PE and recess, and decreased out-of-school activity participation may have increased children's overall free play and MVPA during the pandemic. Free play was an important contributor to children's PA during the pandemic and should be prioritised by educators, coaches and other leaders of child PA opportunities. TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: NCT03380143.

published proceedings

  • BMJ Open

altmetric score

  • 3.7

author list (cited authors)

  • Kellstedt, D. K., Essay, A. M., Schenkelberg, M. A., Rosen, M. S., Von Seggern, M. J., Idoate, R., ... Dzewaltowski, D. A.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Kellstedt, Debra K||Essay, Ann M||Schenkelberg, Michaela A||Rosen, Marisa S||Von Seggern, Mary J||Idoate, Regina||Welk, Gregory J||Rosenkranz, Richard R||Dzewaltowski, David A

publication date

  • January 2022


  • BMJ  Publisher