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Barriers and facilitators to changes in adolescent physical activity during COVID-19
  1. Kwok Ng1,2,
  2. Jemima Cooper1,
  3. Fiona McHale1,
  4. Joanna Clifford1,
  5. Catherine Woods1
  1. 1 Physical Activity for Health Research Cluster, Health Research Institute, Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
  2. 2 School of Educational Sciences and Psychology, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Kwok Ng;{at}


Objectives COVID-19 restrictions reduced adolescents’ opportunities for physical activity (PA). The purpose of this study was to examine how adolescent PA changed during school closures, to identify the key barriers and facilitators for these changes during lockdown and to use this information to understand how to manage future crises’ situations positively to prevent physical inactivity.

Methods Irish adolescents (N=1214; ages 12–18 years) participated in an online cross-sectional study during April 2020, including items on PA level, changes in PA and reasons for change in an open-ended format. Numeric analyses were through multiple binary logistic regressions, stratified by changes in PA during lockdown and inductive analysis of open coding of text responses.

Results Adolescents reported they did less PA (50%), no change (30%) or did more PA during lockdown (20%). Adolescents who did less PA were more likely to be overweight (OR=1.8, CI=1.2–2.7) or obese (OR=2.2, CI=1.2–4.0) and less likely to have strong prior PA habits (OR=0.4, CI=0.2–0.6). The most cited barriers to PA were coronavirus, club training cancelled and time. Strong associations for doing more PA included participation in strengthening exercises at least three times in the past 7 days (OR=1.7, CI=1.3–2.4); facilitators were more time, coronavirus and no school.

Conclusion COVID-19 restrictions were both a barrier to and an opportunity for PA. Parents, schools, public health, communities and industries must collaborate to prevent physical inactivity at times of crisis, especially for vulnerable groups.

  • Physical activity
  • Adolescent
  • Education
  • Epidemiology

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  • Twitter Kwok Ng @KwokWNg, Jemima Cooper @JemimaACooper, Fiona McHale @FionaMcHale and Catherine Woods @CatherineBWoods.

  • Acknowledgements Sarah Taylor, Maeve Conneely, Karen Cotter and Donal O’Shea. ASF coordinators, school principals and teachers, and students involved in ASF.

  • Contributors KN: Conceptualization, Methodology, Validation, Formal Analysis, Investigation, Data Curation, Writing Original Draft, Writing Review & Editing and Visualization; JCO: Conceptualization, Methodology, Formal Analysis, Investigation, Writing Review & Editing and Visualization; FM: Investigation and Writing Review & Editing; JCL: Investigation and Writing Review & Editing; CW: Conceptualization, Methodology, Investigation, Writing Review & Editing, Funding Acquisition.

  • Funding Second-level ASF was funded by Mayo Education Centre, St. Vincent’s Hospital Trust, and Healthy Ireland and had no role in the data analyses.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Approved by the last author’s institutional ethical committee—2018_10_18_EH.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Available upon request.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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