The state of play in 2021 is both improving and unstable. Families feel more comfortable to return. Many kids are back playing. But significant challenges remain, especially since so many more children became physically and mentally unhealthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twenty-two percent of children and teens have been classified as obese during the pandemic, an “alarming” increase from 19% before COVID-19, according to a study by Centers Disease Control and Prevention. For severely obese kids, their expected annual weight gain increased from 8.8 pounds before the pandemic to 14.6 pounds in August 2020. Moderately obese kids went from 6.5 pounds to 12 pounds. Even children who had a healthy weight prior to the pandemic saw their annual weight gain increase from 3.4 pounds to 5.4 pounds.
Meanwhile, an overwhelming demand for mental health services is putting an unprecedented strain on pediatric facilities, primary care, schools, and community-based organizations that support kids’ well-being. Doctors warn that some children may have increased long term adverse consequences on their mental health due to the pandemic.
It’s fair to say play, in all forms, has never been more important.
Sports, when delivered appropriately, offer physical, social, emotional and academic benefits. That’s at risk if more children cannot safely return to sports and physical activity, or if they lose interest in playing sports, as data continue to suggest is happening.
Each year, the Aspen Institute’s Project Play produces this national State of Play report by analyzing youth sports participation data from the previous year provided by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. During COVID-19, Project Play also has conducted surveys with Utah State University to understand parent and child sports experiences in real time.
Some key findings:
Worth considering: To return to sports, maybe some children need a better experience than they were provided before COVID-19 hit. State of Play 2021, authored by the Aspen Institute’s Jon Solomon and Tom Farrey, shares data and analysis from the past year and solutions to improve the model.
This blog was originally published by the Aspen Institute.
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