MAY 13, 2020 — Alaska kids are now getting less physical activity and more non-academic screen time than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
That’s what nearly 750 parents across Alaska said when filling out a recent survey from the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). Parents from every region of the state responded, but about 70% of them were from Anchorage, the Mat-Su Borough or Fairbanks area. The full results of that survey called HEALTH are now online.
“It’s concerning that 6 out of 10 parents said their child is getting less physical activity each day than before the pandemic,” said Karol Fink, registered dietitian and manager of Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. “Daily activity can really help relieve the stresses that children might be feeling right now. The same goes for adults. Physical activity can improve your mood and reduce your stress and feelings of depression.”
Positive results can be immediate, Fink said. Just one session of activity can lower your blood pressure, improve your body’s ability to keep blood sugars level and help you sleep better that night.
Since April, thousands of Alaska parents have filled out online surveys from DHSS to share how the pandemic is impacting their lives. The first survey that was completed between April 13–23, 2020, revealed that 3 out of 4 Alaska parents were concerned that the pandemic is negatively impacting their child’s physical health. Even more parents were concerned about the impact on their child’s mental health.
Alaska’s Physical Activity and Nutrition and Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology programs worked together on the second, most recent survey. Alaska parents completed it between April 22 and May 4, 2020. This HEALTH survey showed the following, in addition to the physical activity findings shared above:
- Many Alaska children have been learning at home this spring, so there’s an expected increase in academic-related screen time. But parents indicated that screen time not spent on schoolwork has increased as well.
- Nearly 8 out of 10 (78%) parents said their child is getting more non-academic screen time each day than before the pandemic. This includes time that a child spends in front of a TV, computer, smart phone, or other electronic device watching shows, playing games, accessing the internet, or using social media.
- Families are very informed about recommendations to be active outside in a safe way during the pandemic:
- Nearly every parent responding to the survey is "very aware" of the importance of staying 6 feet away from others (98%).
- Nearly 9 out of 10 are very aware about the importance of staying closer to home when possible (85%).
- Slightly fewer, but still a majority of parents, are very aware of the recommendations to wear a cloth face covering if passing within 20 feet of others when breathing hard (72%).
We asked if sugary drink consumption changed during the pandemic because we know that too many Alaskans drink more sugary drinks than is healthy. Drinking sugary beverages can increase people’s chances of developing cavities, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- About 3 out of 4 parents (74%) said the amount of sugary drinks they serve their child is no different than before the pandemic. Sugary drinks include soda, sports and energy drinks, as well as fruit-flavored and powdered drinks. About 10% of parents said they served more sugary drinks during the pandemic, and 16% reported serving fewer sugary drinks during the pandemic.
- According to pre-pandemic surveys, nearly 1 out of 3 Alaska 3-year-olds has a sugary drink every day. That increases to about 1 out of 2 Alaska high school students having a sugary drink every day. Water and plain milk are the healthiest drink options.
Families needing help during the pandemic can call 2-1-1, visit Help Me Grow Alaska or continue following Alaska’s Play Every Day campaign for updated guidance. Visit the Office of Children’s Services Child Safety and Well-Being During COVID-19 website for information for youth, families and community members. Resources specifically for parents and caregivers of children with special health care needs are available on the Division of Public Health’s Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs website. Parents feeling overwhelmed can call the Alaska Careline at 877-266-4357, text TalkWithUs to 66746 or visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline.