Originally published by 2 Minute Medicine® (view original article). Reused on AccessMedicine with permission.

1. In this comparative cohort study, early COVID-19 sports restrictions negatively impacted the mental health of adolescent athletes.

2. However, return to sports improved overall well-being of adolescent athletes during the pandemic.

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of organized sports across the United States which has disrupted one of the primary ways in which adolescent athletes remain physically active. Currently, the wellbeing of adolescent athletes has not been evaluated following the re-initiation of organized sports following the initial cancellations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the objective of the present study was to evaluate the changes in mental health, quality of life, and physical activity among adolescent athletes.

4346 athletes from grades 9-12 (age = 16.1 ±1.3 years, 52.1% female) who self-identified as having participated in organized sports before the COVID-19 pandemic completed anonymous online surveys distributed through social media postings and emails between April and June 2021. This cohort was compared to a Spring 2020 cohort of 13 002 athletes (age=16.3 ± 1.2, female= 53%). Participants were excluded if they did not complete the entire survey. Mental health, quality of life and physical activity were evaluated using validated measures and compared between the 2020 and 2021 cohorts.

Results demonstrated that the Spring 2021 cohort reported lower scores and symptom severity for both anxiety and depression compared to the 2020 cohort. Furthermore, the Spring 2021 cohort reported significantly improved quality of life and higher levels of physical activity. Despite these findings, the study was limited by the fact that both cohorts were composed of different individuals thereby increasing the risk of confounding variables. However, these results demonstrate the importance or organized sports for the overall mental and physical wellbeing in adolescent athletes and how this effect should be taken into account when creating public policy.

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