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Research shows pandemic impacts on teenagers' routine




During the pandemic, 48.7% of teenagers in the country have felt worried, nervous, or in a bad mood, most of the time or always. There was an increase in the consumption of sweets and frozen foods, as well as in sedentary lifestyle: the percentage of young people who did not do 60 minutes of physical activity on any day of the week before the pandemic was 20.9%, and increased to 43.4%. Seventy percent of Brazilians aged 16 to 17 started to spend more than 4 hours a day in front of the computer, tablet, or cell phone, in addition to the time for online classes. Moreover, 23.9% of those between 12 and 17 started to show sleeping problems and 59% found it difficult to concentrate on virtual classes. These are some of the results of ConVid Adolescents - Behavior Survey, conducted with young people from all over Brazil, from June to September 2020.

The study investigated changes in routine, lifestyles, relationships with family and friends, school activities, health care, and mood of adolescents between 12 and 17 years old. It was coordinated by the Institute of Scientific and Technological Communication and Information in Health (Icict/Fiocruz), in a partnership with the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the State University of Campinas and completed online. 9,470 teenagers answered a virtual questionnaire between June 27th and September 17th. This is the second stage of ConVid, which in April and May addressed the lifestyles of adults during the pandemic. 

“The lack of physical activity among teenagers was one of the results that stood out the most. In general, young Brazilians practice more collective activities, such as dance classes and ball games. With the social restriction measures, it became more difficult for them to keep exercising”, points out Icict researcher Celia Landmann Szwarcwald, coordinator of the survey. "It also troublesome the mood of these young people, who reported sadness, anxiety and the absence of friends".

Regional differences 

The survey also addressed aspects more directly linked to the pandemic, such as preventive and diagnostic measures. The percentage of adolescents who declared themselves to have received the Covid-19 diagnosis was 3.9%. While the South Region recorded the lowest proportion of young people with Covid-19, with a percentage of 2.1%, the North Region registered 6.1%.

The vast majority of adolescents (71.5%) adhered to measures of social restriction, with 25.9% in total restriction and 45.6% in severe restriction, that is, leaving home only to go to supermarkets, pharmacies, or visit the family. Considering the intense restriction and the total restriction of contacts with other people, the highest proportion occurred in the South Region, 74.1%, while the lowest percentage occurred in the North (66.1%). 

“The North Region stood out for having a higher number of adolescents diagnosed with Covid-19 and less adherence to social restriction measures. It was a pattern that was repeated among adults as well, as pointed out in the first stage of the research”, compares Szwarcwald.

Worsening of physical and mental health 

The worsening of health in the pandemic is another highlight: it was mentioned by 30% of youngsters. Differences were found by sex and age group, with girls reporting a greater proportion of worsening of health condition (33.8%) than boys (25.8%), and older adolescents (37.0%) more than the younger (26.4%). 

The percentage of adolescents who reported worsening of sleep quality during the pandemic was 36%, with 23.9% starting to have problems with sleep and 12.1% reported having problems and they worsened. Sleep quality was more affected among girls, and among adolescents aged 16 to 17 years, compared to younger ones.

Feeling worried, nervous, or moody was described by 48.7% of adolescents, most of the time or always. Among girls, the percentage was 61.6%. Adolescents aged 16-17 years reported this feeling more frequently (55.3%) than those aged 12-15 years (45.5%).

“It is also important to highlight the worsening of sleep quality and problems with mood. There are several factors such as feelings of sadness, nervousness, isolation, insecurity, fear by family members, which are directly affecting the health of young people. It is not for nothing that 30% of them identify a worsening of their health condition”, points out the researcher. 

Changes in eating habits and a more sedentary lifestyle

Consumption of unhealthy food on two or more days per week increased: 4% for frozen dishes and 4% for chocolates and sweets. More than 40% of adolescents did not practice physical activity for 60 minutes on any day of the week during the pandemic. The percentage of young people who did not do 60 minutes of physical activity on any day of the week before the pandemic was 20.9% and increased to 43.4%. 

In the period, more than 60% of the adolescents reported staying for more than 4 hours in front of computer screens, tablets, or cell phones as leisure, in addition to time for online classes. Among adolescents aged 16-17 years, the percentage reaches 70%. “These devices have become a way for them to connect with friends via social networks or playing games, but this excess of time in front of screens is alarming”, points out Celia.

The adolescents mention a lot of difficulty in keeping up with distance learning classes: 59% reported lack of concentration, 38.3% lack of interaction with teachers, 31.3% lack of interaction with friends. Regarding the understanding of the content of distance learning classes, 47.8% of the adolescents reported that they understood little, and 15.8% said they did not understand a thing. Only 1 in 4 adolescents aged 16-17 years reported being able to understand it all or almost everything.

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