In order to plan for the situation when children return to school, the HAPPEN network examined children’s survey responses from lockdown in 2020 and responses in the same period in 2019 and 2018. We examined responses from 1333 children from 161 primary schools across Wales. Full findings have been published here.
Children reported better wellbeing and sleep in 2020 lockdown
Children reported more physical activity (walking with family, cycling), sleep, better wellbeing and higher happiness in terms of their family, health and life compared to in 2019 and 2018. There were less emotional and behavioural difficulties during lockdown 2020 than in previous years at the same time.
School closures widen inequalities for more deprived children
However, children on free school meals ate less fruit and vegetables and felt they were less competent in school, when in lockdown, compared to previous years. Children on free school meals ate more takeaways, did less activity compared to those not on free school meals and reported less access to safe areas to play, which may account for the lower activity levels. This means there is likely to be widening differences in the physical health (e.g. obesity, fitness) of those on free school meals after lockdown compared to those not on free school meals.
Planning for the future
The findings from this work illustrate the importance of the entire school day, including free school meal provision and physical activity in a safe environment, in reducing physical health inequalities in children.
When schools reopen, our findings suggest there will be a need to address wider physical health inequalities such as, obesity and prolonged poorer quality diet in those from a deprived backgrounds.
Our study also highlights the importance of time with family and time to relax and sleep for children of primary school age and the impact this can have on improving wellbeing for children.