Excerpted from abstract
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) environments influence children’s early development and habits that track across a lifespan. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of COVID-19 government-mandated guidelines on physical activity (PA) and eating environments in ECEC settings. This cross-sectional study involved the recruitment of 19 ECEC centers pre-COVID (2019) and 15 ECEC centers during COVID (2020) in Alberta, Canada (n = 34 ECEC centers; n = 83 educators; n = 361 preschoolers). Educators completed the CHEERS (Creating Healthy Eating and activity Environments Survey) and MEQ (Mindful Eating Questionnaire) self-audit tools while GT3X+ ActiGraph accelerometers measured preschooler PA. The CHEERS healthy eating environment subscale was greater during COVID-19 (5.97 ± 0.52; 5.80 ± 0.62; p = 0.02) and the overall score positively correlated with the MEQ score (r = 0.20; p = 0.002). Preschoolers exhibited greater hourly step counts (800 ± 189; 649 ± 185), moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) (9.3 ± 3.0 min/h; 7.9 ± 3.2 min/h) and lower sedentary times (42.4 ± 3.9 min/h; 44.1 ± 4.9 min/h) during COVID-19 compared to pre-COVID, respectively (p < 0.05). These findings suggest the eating environment and indices of child physical activity were better in 2020, which could possibly be attributed to a change in government-mandated COVID-19 guideline policy.