Abstract

Context: In the spring of 2020, US schools closed to in-person teaching and sports were cancelled to control the transmission of COVID-19. It is critical to understand the mental and physical health of adolescent athletes during this time.

Objective: Describe the health of athletes during COVID-19 related school closures and sport cancellations.

Design: Cross sectional.

Setting: A national sample recruited via social media.

Patients or Other Participants: 13,002 US adolescent athletes (age=16.3+1.2 yrs., female=53.1%) completed an anonymous online survey.

Main Outcome Measure(s): Demographic information included: sex, grade, sports played and zip code. Assessments included the: General Anxiety Disorder-7 Item (GAD-7) for anxiety, Patient Health Questionnaire-9 Item (PHQ-9) for depression, the Pediatric Functional Activity Brief Scale (PFABS) for physical activity, and the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory 4.0 (PedsQL) for quality of life. Mental health, physical activity and quality of life variables were compared between sex, grade, sports played and poverty level using means and 95%CI from the survey weighted ANOVA.

Results: Females reported a higher prevalence of moderate to severe anxiety symptoms (females=43.7% vs. males=28.2%). The PFABS score (mean [95%CI] was highest (best) for grade 9 (14.5 [14.0,15.0]) and lowest for grade 11 (10.9 [10.5,11.3]. The prevalence of depression symptoms was highest in team sport (74.1%) and lowest for individual sport participants (64.9%). The total PedsQL score was lowest (worst) for athletes from counties with the highest poverty levels (high=74.5[73.7,75.3], middle=78.9[78.0,79.8], low=78.3 [77.4,79.1]).

Conclusions: The health of US adolescents during the COVID-19 related school closures and sport cancellations varied to differing degrees depending on sex, grade level, type of sport participation and level of poverty. Health policy experts should consider these findings when creating and implementing policies to improve the health of adolescents in the US in the future.

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