Sleep, Activity & Eating Habits in Preschoolers Were Impacted by COVID Lockdowns, Parents Say

The article covers a study on the impact of COVID lockdowns on preschool children, with the information provided by parents in detailed interviews.
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Last updatedLast updated: June 11, 2022
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The Covid-19 pandemic has seen 259 million cases worldwide Trusted Source WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard | World Health Organization An overview of confirmed cases of COVID-19, including deaths, and an administered total vaccine doses reported to WHO. covid19.who.int , with over 5 million deaths recorded to date.

It has also caused a huge amount of chaos worldwide, including bringing with it all kinds of restrictions to us all. For a long time, you could not socialize, go to work, or even leave the house, depending on your location in the world. Even now, the pandemic rages on, and restrictions change almost daily depending on your country.

This impact has been tremendous on all age groups, but a study has revealed that the effects run deep for children in younger age groups.

Preschool Children in the UK & Covid-19 Lockdowns

The UK had a few lockdowns, of which the first started in March 2020. This lockdown was the most pronounced and detailed that you could only leave your home for essential reasons of which were decided by the government.

By late May, the pandemic numbers were calmed enough that some restrictions were lifted, and preschools were back up and running in the following month. The attendance numbers suffered, though for multiple reasons.

While children are not part of the most at-risk group when it comes to Covid-19, the effect of lockdowns and restrictions as above has had a huge impact on their lives. From the amount they watch TV to how much they exercise or see their family – all areas of life have been affected for children of preschool age.

In a previous study – ‘COVID-19: Supporting Parents and Young Children during Epidemics’ – it was found that about 25% of children between 2 and 4 years old were watching screens for up to three hours a day and sometimes more. While this happened, a decrease in physical activity occurred simultaneously, with only 20% getting the required amount of exercise every day.

Other observations showed that children aged between 2 and 7 years in Scotland were eating in an unhealthy way compared to how they ate pre-pandemic in a third of cases. 50% also moved less, and interestingly 25% moved more.

The Latest Study and Its Findings

The study, published in the BMJ Open paper, looks at a wide range of impacts on children’s health caused by Covid-19 lockdowns and general restrictions on day-to-day life.

The research involved interviews with the parents of children of 3-5 years old. The parents and children were a mix of families from different geographical locations, working status, home layout, socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, races, ages, and sexes. One key finding was that there was generally no distinct difference in results regardless of the differences between families. The study’s findings were in general areas such as eating, physical activity, screen time, and sleep behavior.

Eating Habits

The study showed that parents spent more money on food although fewer shopping trips occurred. More snacks were eaten by children too because they were bored, had no set routines, or because more treats were given as a response to the struggles the children were facing being so restricted in life overall during the lockdown. The findings also showed that:

  • Children ate for longer, or they did not eat as much
  • Mealtimes and meal prep was enjoyed by the whole family more
  • Takeaways were reduced by some because of Covid-19 worries
  • Takeaways were more regular for some as something to look forward to
  • More money was spent on shopping because the whole family was at home
  • Free meal losses Trusted Source Free school meals: Everything you need to know | The Big Issue Schools reopened, but the financial shock of the pandemic – as well as the universal credit cut and a cost of living crisis – pushed thousands more families into poverty. www.bigissue.com were a problem for one family
  • Online shopping was the primary choice of acquiring food for the family

Physical Activities

In many cases, lockdown caused children to be more sedentary as they had less chance to participate in playground activity and organized exercise like PE. Walking to and from school was also unnecessary, cutting down on physical activity further. Children with brothers and sisters and those with bikes and similar equipment increased the likelihood of a child moving more. Other key physical activity findings from the study were:

  • Families without a garden struggled to keep children active
  • Good weather helped encourage many kids outdoors
  • Some families explored the neighborhood to get exercise
  • If both parents needed to work, the children were less likely to be encouraged to be active

Screen Time

According to the medical paper, the restrictions of lockdowns had a large impact on children’s screen time. Whether screens were used for education, as a tool to speak to friends and family, or for entertainment, they were used a lot by children. Interestingly, lots of parents felt worried about screen time in how it impacted their child’s mood and quality of childhood and how it caused them to be more sedentary. This was paired with an overall feeling of not having any choice but to allow more screen time, creating a conflict of emotions in many parents in the study.

Sleep Behaviour

Around 50% of the parents in the study felt that their children were going through a completely disturbed sleep pattern, many staying up later than they usually did when going to school. Anxiety, less exercise, and a lack of routine were all reasons given for disturbed sleep patterns in the children.

Moving Forward

Moving forward, the study showed that there was a mixture of good and bad things to come out of the pandemic for the families in the study. Some key concerns and worries from the parents were:

  • Feeling guilty about this period of time and what their child missed out on
  • Struggling to get back into healthy eating routines
  • Knowing effort needed to be made to get back into ‘normal life’ safely
  • Children feeling worried about riding a bike or swimming again after a period of time away
  • Struggling to get the children back into a school routine

Overall, the study placed emphasis on parents not feeling ashamed about this period with their children. Instead, the emphasis should be on being aware of the effects of the lockdown on children in this age group and supporting those children into this next stage of life, returning to normality.

References

1.
WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dashboard | World Health Organization
An overview of confirmed cases of COVID-19, including deaths, and an administered total vaccine doses reported to WHO.
2.
Free school meals: Everything you need to know | The Big Issue
Schools reopened, but the financial shock of the pandemic – as well as the universal credit cut and a cost of living crisis – pushed thousands more families into poverty.
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