ANAHEIM, Calif.--High rates of depression and anxiety reported by adolescent athletes whose sports were cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic improved significantly a year later when they were able to resume playing sports, according to new research.
The author of an abstract, “The Influence of Return to Sport on Mental Health, Physical Activity and Quality of Life Among Adolescent Athletes During COVID-19,” will present his findings during the AAP 2022 National Conference and Exhibition in Anaheim, CA.
“For decades, organized sport participation has been shown to have significant physical and mental health benefits for adolescents, but the COVID-19 pandemic really made this even more clear,” said the author, Drew Watson, MD, MS, a team physician for the University of Wisconsin Athletics.
“The cancellation of sports in the early pandemic was accompanied by decreased physical activity and quality of life, as well as startlingly high levels of anxiety and depression. Although the return to sports has been associated with large improvements in physical activity levels, quality of life and mental health, we are still seeing higher levels of anxiety and depression than before COVID-19, suggesting that this will remain a vitally important priority for years to come.”
A total 17,421 teens nationwide completed surveys including demographic and sport participation information in May 2020 following COVID-19 related sport cancellations and after returning to sports in May 2021, according to the abstract.
When sports were cancelled, adolescent athletes reported low levels of physical activity, poor quality of life and high rates of anxiety and depression. One year later, those athletes who were able to return to sports reported significant increases in physical activity and quality of life. The proportion of adolescents who reported moderate to severe anxiety or depression was reduced by about half.
Dr. Watson suggests that the opportunity to participate in organized sports can have dramatic benefits for adolescent quality of life and mental health.
Dr. Watson is scheduled to present an abstract of the study, available below, Saturday, Oct. 8 between 2:15 pm PT and 3:15 pm PT during the Council for Sports Medicine and Fitness H program at the Anaheim Marriott, Platinum Ballroom. To request an interview with the author, journalists may contact Gian Galassi at Galassi@uwhealth.org.
Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org. Reporters can access the meeting program and other relevant meeting information through the AAP meeting website at http://www.aapexperience.org/
Program Name: 2022 AAP National Conference & Exhibition
Abstract Title The Influence of Return to Sport on Mental Health, Physical Activity and Quality of Life Among Adolescent Athletes During COVID-19
Madison, WI, United States
COVID-19 has had profound detrimental impacts on the mental health of children and adolescents. Among youth athletes, the loss of sports was associated with dramatic increases in anxiety and depression and significant reductions in quality of life (QOL) and physical activity (PA). Although PA and organized sport participation have historically been associated with improved mental health and well-being among adolescents, the impact of the return to sports on psychosocial outcomes in young athletes during COVID-19 is poorly defined. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the changes in mental health, QOL and PA among adolescent athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic as organized sports resumed.
Adolescent athletes from throughout the United States completed surveys including demographic and sport participation information, the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 Item (PHQ-9), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 item (GAD-7), and the Hospital for Special Surgery Physical Function and Activity Brief Scale (PFABS) in May 2020 following COVID-19 related sport cancelations (Spring20) and after returning to sports in May 2021 (Spring21). The groups were balanced by inverse propensity score weighting using age, geographic region, school enrollment, socioeconomic status, number of sports played, and sport type. Thereafter, continuous variables were compared using ANOVA models, and categorical outcomes were compared using age and sex-adjusted ordinal regression models.
A total of 17,421 participants were included (Spring20=13,002; Spring21=4,419; 16.2 +/- 1.2 years; 53% female). Anxiety was significantly lower (better) in Spring21 than Spring20 with respect to GAD-7 total scores (Spring20 = 7.0 [6.9,7.1], Spring21 = 4.9 [4.8,5.0], p< 0.001) as well as the prevalence of moderate to severe anxiety (Spring20 = 29.4%, Spring21 = 17.1%, p< 0.001; see Figure 1). Similarly, depression was significantly improved in Spring21 with respect to PHQ-9 total scores (Spring20 = 7.6 [7.5,7.7], Spring21 = 4.6 [4.5,4.8], p< 0.001) as well as the prevalence of moderate to severe depression (Spring20 = 32.2%, Spring21 = 15.4%, p< 0.001; see Figure 2). Lastly, athletes in Spring21 reported higher levels of PA (Spring20 = 13.8 [13.6,13.9], Spring21 = 22.7 [22.6,22.9], p< 0.001) and QOL (Spring20 = 79.6 [79.3,79.9], Spring21 = 84.7 [84.4,85.0], p< 0.001).
Adolescent athletes reported significant impairments in mental health, QOL and PA during the early pandemic when sports were canceled. In 2021, after returning to sports, athletes report significant improvements in mental health, PA and QOL. Unfortunately, the reported levels of anxiety, depression and QOL remain worse than previously reported values among adolescents before COVID-19. This suggests that while sport participation may have a significant and beneficial impact on psychosocial outcomes, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of young athletes will remain an important consideration into the future.
Proportions of adolescent athletes reporting different levels of anxiety early in the COVID-19 pandemic following sport cancelation (2020) and after returning to sport participation (2021).
Proportions of adolescent athletes reporting different levels of depression early in the COVID-19 pandemic following sport cancelation (2020) and after returning to sport participation (2021).
The influence of return to sport on mental health, physical activity and quality of life among adolescent athletes during COVID-19
Article Publication Date