The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on US College Students’ Physical Activity and Mental Health

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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Background: Investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on both physical activity (PA) and mental health is important to demonstrate the need for interventions. This study examined the apparent impact of the pandemic on college students’ PA, perceived stress, and depressive symptoms. Methods: From 2015 through 2020, data were collected at the beginning and end of the spring semester at a large Northeastern US university via an online survey assessing student demographics, PA, perceived stress, and depressive symptoms. Mixed ANOVA examined differences in PA and mental health changes over the spring semester between “normal” and COVID-19 circumstances. Two-way ANOVA examined the interaction between circumstance and changes in PA in relation to changes in mental health. Results: Participants (n = 1019) were predominately women and non-Hispanic white. There was a significant decline in PA and an increase in perceived stress under COVID-19, but not normal, circumstances and a significant increase in depressive symptoms under COVID-19, but not normal, circumstances among women. Conclusions: A significant decline in PA and mental health among college students occurred under COVID-19 circumstances, and PA did not appear to protect against deterioration in mental health. Proactive and innovative policies, programs, and practices to promote student health and well-being must be explored immediately.

The authors are with the Department of Kinesiology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA.

Bopp (mjb73@psu.edu) is corresponding author.
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