Teens’ physical activity declines during pandemic, substance use persists
Physical activity among teens in California declined during the COVID-19 pandemic and their substance use persisted, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Benjamin W. Chaffee, DDS, PhDMPH, an assistant professor in the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, and colleagues reported results from an ongoing prospective cohort study of tobacco use behaviors among 1,423 students in ninth and 10th grade at eight public high schools in Northern California from March 2019 to February 2020.
Half of the participants completed a baseline survey from March to May 2019, whereas the other half completed the survey from August 2019 to February 2020. The initial half completed the 6-month follow-up survey before the beginning of the pandemic, whereas the second group completed the follow-up survey after California’s stay-at-home order was enacted.
“In the main analysis, outcomes of interest were the prevalence of past 30-day use of e-cigarettes, other tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol and physical activity,” the authors wrote.
Overall, 82% of participants who were contacted after the pandemic began responded “I don’t know” when questioned about the ease of accessing tobacco. Of those participants, 92% of them did not use tobacco in the past 30 days.
Before the stay-at-home order, past 30-day use of e-cigarettes “decreased meaningfully,” from 17% at baseline to 11% after 6 months. Additionally, in the other group that was not surveyed throughout the pandemic, e-cigarette use declined from 20% before to 11% after the 6-month follow-up.
Although cannabis use declined after the 6-month follow-up in the nonpandemic group, cannabis use among the pandemic group remained nondifferent.
In both cohorts, the prevalence of being physically active for 5 or more days a week was 54% at baseline. In the nonpandemic group, that number decreased to 53% after 6 months (adjusted OR = 0.94; 95% CI, 0.75-1.19). In the pandemic group, it decreased to 38% after 6 months (OR = 0.46; 95% CI, 0.36-0.60).
“Unlike substance use, achieving at least 5 days of vigorous physical activity a week was notably less common following the California stay-at-home order,” the authors wrote. “These findings suggest a need for parents and schools to continue substance use prevention efforts and to dedicate additional attention to physical activity promotion.”
In a related editorial, Sherry L. Pagoto, PhD, a psychologist and director of the UConn Center for mHealth & Social Media at the University of Connecticut, and David E. Conroy, PhD, professor of kinesiology and human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University, said the decline in physical activity speaks to how “resilient” youths’ active lifestyles are when faced with external factors, such as a pandemic.
“A resilient, physically active lifestyle can be cultivated via two strategies,” Pagoto and Conroy wrote. “First, teaching youths to anticipate and plan for disruptions to their physical activity can reduce the likelihood that a disruption will leave them inactive.
“Second, fostering intrinsic motivation, defined as the desire to participate in exercise for its own sake, could reduce the dependence on external factors. Youths who enjoy exercise and consider it to be part of their core values are more likely to continue being active.”