New study shows impact of no school, no sports

A recently released study by the University of Wisconsin measures, for the first time, the impact on the health of adolescent athletes after the cancelation of sports and school closures.

Wisconsin high school students, like those in Oregon, were sent home in March from schools and high school athletics were called off due to Covid-19 concerns. Experts in the area of child health argued these closures and lack of sports would have a profound “societal, economic, and psychosocial consequences for students and need to be further studied.” The study, just released, interviewed 3,243 student athletes ranging in age from 16 to 18.

Those participating took a short, 6.8 minute survey online to gather the results. The responses came from 71 of the 72 counties in Wisconsin with 58 percent of those responding female.

The tabulations showed 60.8 percent of student athletes reported anxiety after not having been in school physically or active in high school sports since May, 2020. Of the 60 percent, 25 percent showed moderate or severe anxiety.

Almost 70 percent of high school athletes in Wisconsin reported some symptoms of depression in May with over 33 percent reporting moderate to severe depression. Prior to the school and athletics closures, less than 10 percent of these same students reported moderate to severe depression.

Physical activity among student athletes dropped by 50 percent as schools were closed and high school athletics were called off. Only 12.2 percent of student athletes reported keeping up with physical activity after being sent home to online learning.

Wisconsin student athletes also reported a sharpened decrease in health related quality of life after Covid-19 took over the state. Prior to sports being called off, 91 percent of those surveyed reported an overall good quality of life. Afterwards, only 78.4 percent reported the same.

The study concluded “Covid-19 related school closures in Wisconsin are associated with worsening mental health, physical activity and health related quality of life.” The study estimates 66,000 student athletes now are at risk of some form of depression and this may impact drug/alcohol use, the drive to stay in school and engagement with peers.

Experts agree exercise and organized sports are a powerful antidepressant and anti-anxiety intervention for student athletes. They also agree if Covid-19 continues to close schools and knock out high school sports into 2021, we can continue to see continued lower rates of exercise and higher rates of anxiety and depression. The study concluded school and sport closures appear to “associated with significant, negative impacts on the health and well-being of Wisconsin adolescent athletes” and urged school and state officials to consider the impacts of school closures.