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Alaska kids are spending less time exercising and more time on screens during the pandemic, survey shows

Tape indicates that playground equipment at Westchester Lagoon, photographed April 6, 2020, was closed. Playgrounds in Anchorage reopened in early May. (Marc Lester / ADN)

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Alaska parents say their kids are getting less exercise and more screen time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, a recently released survey from the state’s health department shows.

Of the 770 people who responded to the survey and identified as parents or guardians, 78% said their kids were getting more non-school-related screen time than before the pandemic.

Six in 10 of those same respondents said their kids spent less time getting physical activity, according to the survey from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“Right now is a super challenging time for parents and kids and families,” said Karol Fink, director of the physical activity and nutrition program at the state health department. “Everybody’s routine has been disrupted.”

After-school programs were canceled, child care centers and schools were closed and children couldn’t get out in groups to play with their friends.

“Given all that, we’re not surprised by our findings,” Fink said.

It’s understandable. Parents are juggling their jobs, their kids and their kids’ remote school.

“It’s hard to fit it all into the day,” Fink said.

Prior to the pandemic, 80% of Alaska kids surveyed were not getting the recommended hour of physical activity each day, Fink said.

There are limits to what the survey can say about statewide activity, Fink said. Certain regions had less representation than others so they can’t say it represents all statewide behaviors, “but we’re reasonably assured that this is true,” Fink said of the trends shown in the survey.

Some parents might try setting up schedules in advance for activity throughout the day to make up for loss of recess and other activities.

But Fink acknowledged that not everyone has the luxury of sending their kids into the backyard to play or allowing them to head over to a safe neighborhood park.

When it comes to screen time, there are parental controls, Fink said.

Plus, “it’s OK for kids to be bored,” Fink said. It’s an opportunity for skills and creativity — puzzles, sewing or other projects — even though it’s hard to turn away from screens sometimes, Fink said.

“Parents need to be kind to themselves and set reasonable expectations,” Fink said.

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