Research has found that strict blockages to reduce the spread of COVID-19 could be responsible for delaying normal cardiorespiratory development in children.
The study, the first to examine the subject, is published in the European Journal of Pediatrics. It was carried out by Dr. Lee Smith of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and a team of academics from Spain, led by Dr. Ruben Lopez-Bueno from the University of Zaragoza.
The investigation involved a group of 89 children from a school in northeastern Spain. The country introduced a strict six-week closure in the spring of 2020, during which children under 15 could not leave their homes, except for medical reasons.
Children, ages 12 to 14, participated in fitness tests to measure maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) in November 2019, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and repeated the tests. of fitness in November 2020.
VO2 max is a well-known indicator of cardiorespiratory fitness and levels increase during adolescence, in line with growth and physical development.
The study found that in November 2020, boys and girls in each age group showed lower levels of cardiorespiratory condition than expected with normal development of the maximum VO2 rate. Healthy zone (HFZ) levels, a standard measure of health based on age and sex, also fell 3.4% over the 12-month period.
The lead author, Dr. Lee Smith, a lecturer in Physical Activity and Public Health at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “We know that sedentary behavior has a negative effect on health and cardiorespiratory fitness, but we cannot say to what extent the delay in the development of the maximum VO2 levels we found was caused by COVID-19 restrictions.
“Under normal conditions, maximum VO2 levels tend to increase in adolescents up to a certain age. In our study, each age and sex subgroup showed lower levels relative to normal development of the maximum VO2 rate and specific subgroups, such as 12-year-old boys and 14-year-old girls, showed reductions. in their actual levels of these groups.
“Our results may not be as pronounced as might be predicted. This could be because Spain relaxed its blockade by entering the summer. The children were able to participate in physical activity again, helping them regain their cardiorespiratory form, and we did not try the group again until November.
“Regardless, if more closures are needed in the future, maintaining access to open spaces such as parks and sports facilities should be considered, especially for vulnerable groups such as adolescents.”