Student Physical Activity Dropped Worldwide During COVID-19, Raising Concerns for Health

Sophia Stoller
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DALLAS, TX (March 24, 2021) –   The Cooper Institute® has published a new research study demonstrating the impact of COVID-19 on Physical Education and physical activity across the nation during this time of remote learning. The observed decrease in physical activity puts our children at increased risk for obesity and the related health outcomes in the future.

 79% reported their students were either “Significantly Less” (48%) or “Somewhat Less” (31%) physically active during school closure.

Starting in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to extraordinary societal measures aimed at containing the virus, including closure of schools, social distancing, and sheltering in place at home across the United States and beyond. It has been previously shown that prolonged time away from school, such as summer breaks, negatively impacts youth health, specifically decreasing cardiorespiratory fitness and increasing Body Mass Index. In addition, numerous studies show a loss of learning among students. As such, it is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a similar effect on remote-learning youth.

The Cooper Institute research study was completed in March 2021 by 2,440 respondents from all 50 U.S. States. The study examined the status of Physical Education and physical activity during distance learning and sought to understand the challenges experienced by educators. Of respondents, 79% reported their students were either “Significantly Less” (48%) or “Somewhat Less” (31%) physically active during school closure. Significant reductions were observed in weekly requirements for Physical Education with many more schools reporting “no” or “zero” hours required during the pandemic. Similar findings of decreased physical activity were seen in studies from Verona, Italy and Shanghai, China.  Based on all these findings, opportunities for physical activity have decreased around the globe.  It is imperative that all youth are provided with safe, simple and easily implemented physical activity programs.

 “It is vital that our parents, teachers and students are aware of the impact decreased physical activity can have on our youth now and throughout their lifespan.” says Andjelka Pavlovic, PhD, Director of Youth Research and Education for The Cooper Institute. “Significant reductions in Physical Education and limited physical activity can lead to greater obesity rates and lower cardiorespiratory fitness among children, predisposing them to cardiometabolic disease and other health consequences.”

The Cooper Institute research study also demonstrated the most significant challenges experienced by teachers during the pandemic for closed schools were access to online learning, teacher and student communication and teacher remote work arrangements. In an open school environment, the challenges were social distancing, access to a gymnasium or equipment and concern for personal health and well-being. These challenges are important as they can be utilized to inform educators and administrators returning to campus in the future.

FitnessGram Playground by The Cooper Institute

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Cooper Institute created The FitnessGram PlayGround a free online site for educators that offers resources for Health and Fitness to improve student’s physical and mental well-being. The FitnessGram PlayGround provides teachers with resources to educate the importance of health-related fitness and living a physically active lifestyle. Some of the available resources to help students stay healthy and physically active on the site include:


The Cooper Institute was established as a nonprofit in 1970 by Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, to promoting life-long health and wellness worldwide through research, education and advocacy. By improving public health, The Cooper Institute helps people lead better, longer lives now and Well. Into the Future. To learn more, visit

Written by Breanna Palmeiro