In mid-March 2020, due to the coronavirus epidemic, a number of restrictions came into force in Hungary. Of these, the step that most affected students was the closure of schools that brought the beginning of the digital education along. In addition, the closure of playgrounds and parks and the ban on group trainings also challenged families.
In mid-May 2020, the Hungarian School Sport Federation (HSSF) launched an online questionnaire survey to examine how the introduced restrictions affected the physical activity of school children (6–18 years).
A total of 2626 students (boys: 1243, 47.3%) participated in the survey (mean age: 13.3 ± 0.56 years).
There was a very low proportion of students who achieved the recommended minimum of 60 minutes per day for moderate to high intensity exercise (16.3% of girls, 23.8% of boys). This approx. means 1 in 6 girls and 1 in 4 boys.
This rate was more favorable for younger children (6–10 years old), living in villages, and those who have a dog or garden of their own. The proportion of students in official quarantine is 14.3% (about 1 in 7).
Students played an average of 2.7 hours outdoors on weekdays and an average of 3.3 hours on weekends.
The time spent in front of the screen significantly exceeded the maximum of 2 hours per day recommended screen time for this age group (average: 3.7 hours on weekdays, 3.5 hours on weekends). It is unusual, but not surprising, that as a result of the digital education, students sat in front of a screen more on weekdays than on weekends.
Students who followed a structured agenda on a daily basis during digital education, were twice as much as those who did not have a routine in achieving the recommended duration of physical activity (31.3% vs. 14.7%) and spent less time in front of a screen (average weekday: 3.2 hours vs 4.5 hours, weekends: 2.9 hours vs. 4.3 hours).
More than a quarter (27.9%) of students said they did not attend an online PE class at all. On the other hand, 36.5% were quite often or always very active in online PE classes.
The most popular activities were outdoor activities among the respondents. Walking, cycling and jogging / running were in the top three choices.
In the light of the results and the experience gained during the epidemic, in line with the recommendation of the European Federation of Physical Education Association (EUPEA) published in June 2020, it is very important that everyday PE is also provided to students in a digital curriculum. School PE is an integral part of the National Core Curriculum, as a subject and field of study on equal footing with any other general education subject, therefore leaving classes behind, reducing the number of hours is illegitimate and unethical, endangering students' health in the long run.
We consider it important that school PE and student sports classes are carried out by teachers (PE teachers, and special educators) who are appropriately qualified and educated for the given group of students, even in the event of an epidemiological emergency. In the case of the digital work schedule, there is a need for online and offline weekly learning tasks that interact with each other, and which are expected to be completed by the students, and on which they must receive regular feedback and evaluation from their teachers.
At the same time, learning tasks must provide a high degree of flexibility so that each student can complete them according to their circumstances. It is important to encourage students to use different modes of active transport (eg scooter, bicycle, walk) and to draw parents ’attention to the importance of a regular agenda during digital education, especially for the high school age group! In this way, we can help maintain the level of physical activity of young people even during the restrictions, thereby maintaining a healthy lifestyle.