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New working paper highlights the pandemic toll on physical activity for Boston Public Schools students

December 2, 2021

Boston – A new working paper for the Boston Foundation by researchers at ChildObesity180 and the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University captures the significant toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical activity programs in Boston schools.  The paper, entitled Evaluating Children’s Physical Activity in School-Based Programs, explores the reach and impact of four Boston Foundation-funded programs and the effects of the pandemic on their ability to keep students active.

Childrens Activity Report Cover Download the report

The paper found that the four programs, Build Our Kids Success (BOKS); Community Rowing, Inc.; Playworks; and Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center achieved broad reach inside and around the school day, with more than half of Boston Public Schools taking part in one or more of the programs before the pandemic. The schools involved were generally representative of the district demographically; however, they also tended to have environments that were more generally supportive of children’s physical activity compared with other schools in the district.

Surveys with 26 coaches and surveys and interviews with eight senior leaders from the programs found that participation rates and program time provided were adversely affected by the pandemic.  Coaches reported that the total amount of physical activity program time for their students fell by more than half between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020, as pandemic-related challenges reduced the number of weeks, number of days per week, and number of minutes per session that programs were provided. Interviews with coaches and staff highlighted not only the challenges the programs faced but also the innovative efforts made to adapt in-school efforts to a remote environment.

“Research and data have highlighted the negative impacts of the pandemic on many aspects of education, and physical activity was, unfortunately, no exception,” said Elizabeth Pauley, Associate Vice President for Education to Career and Health and Wellness at the Boston Foundation. “Knowing the significant role activity plays in reducing obesity and improving learning, we are both grateful for the dedication of these programs to serve thousands of students during the pandemic and hopeful that we can continue to erase the negative impacts this year and beyond.”