Objectives In spring 2020, the first COVID-19 national lockdown placed unprecedented restrictions on the behaviour and movements of the UK population. Citizens were ordered to ‘stay at home’, only allowed to leave their houses to buy essential supplies, attend medical appointments or exercise once a day. We explored how lockdown and its subsequent easing changed young children’s everyday activities, eating and sleep habits to gain insight into the impact for health and well-being.
Design In-depth qualitative interviews; data analysed using thematic analysis.
Setting South West and West Midlands of England.
Participants Twenty parents (16 mothers; 4 fathers) of preschool-age children (3–5 years) due to start school in September 2020. Forty per cent of the sample were from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds and half lived in the most deprived areas.
Results Children’s activity, screen time, eating and sleep routines had been disrupted. Parents reported children ate more snacks, but families also spent more time preparing meals and eating together. Most parents reported a reduction in their children’s physical activity and an increase in screen time, which some linked to difficulties in getting their child to sleep. Parents sometimes expressed guilt about changes in activity, screen time and snacking over lockdown. Most felt these changes would be temporary, though others worried about re-establishing healthy routines.
Conclusions Parents reported that lockdown negatively impacted on preschool children’s eating, activity and sleep routines. While some positive changes were identified, many participants described lack of routines, habits and boundaries which may have been detrimental for child health and development. Guidance and support for families during COVID-19 restrictions could be valuable to help maintain healthy activity, eating, screen time and sleeping routines to protect child health and ensure unhealthy habits are not adopted.
- nutrition & dietetics
- qualitative research
- public health
Data availability statement
Data are available upon reasonable request. Anonymised study data will be made available via a University of Bristol repository.
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Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published. The term ‘White’ has been changed to ‘White British or White Other’. The funding statement has also been updated.
Contributors The study was conceived by JC, RK, SC, KW, HT, RB, KH, SAS and RL. JC led the study with oversight from RL and RK. Interviews were conducted by JC, SC and KW. Coding of the data was performed by JC, HT and RB. JC, RK and RL produced the first draft of the manuscript, with all other authors providing critical review and intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Funding This work was funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR-PROG-CYP-WP3) and NIHR funding for the NAP SACC UK trial (2019-3426). SAS and SC were supported by the Medical Research Council and the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates (MC_UU_00022/1 and SPHSU16).
Disclaimer The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily any of the funding bodies listed.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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