Distance Learning Makes It Harder for Kids to Exercise

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(Image courtesy Black Health Matters)

By Black Health Matters

This fall hasn’t felt much like “back to school” for many children. Instead, many are staying at home and attending virtual classes indefinitely.

According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a nonpartisan research center, about 25 percent of United S. school districts have started the year fully remote. This means that children will miss out on vital opportunities for educational, social and emotional development. 

And, as is familiar during this pandemic, the impact will be unequal: Children in underresourced districts are more likely to be remote learners. These children are hardest hit by school closures as they are more likely to lack access to necessary technologies and are less likely to receive parental help with their learning. They will also lose out on easy access to school meals.

But there’s another harm done by school closures: a child’s ability to be physically active. We are researchers at Johns Hopkins University studying physical activity and its impact on public health. Based on our research, we believe the pandemic is exacerbating health disparities among children and having significant impacts on their physical, social and cognitive development.

Children not in school don’t have recess or physical education classes. They aren’t walking to school or to a bus stop. Generally, they can’t participate in school teams or clubs that promote physical activity either (although in some school districts, team sports may go ahead even while in-person education does not). 

What’s more, children have traditionally been less physically active in the summer than during the school year, with notable differences by race and ethnicity. And given the punishing trajectory of the pandemic, it is not clear when those prospects for physical activity will be available again.