Disseminating and evaluating ‘best practices’ that promote healthy lifestyle behaviours and mental wellbeing to mitigate the impact of COVID‑19 on elementary school children in disadvantaged communities
Measures implemented to slow the spread of COVID‑19 created a lot of hardship for school-aged children. These measures included closures of schools and orders to stay home for many weeks. Considerable concerns have emerged about the impact of these measures on children’s health and wellbeing, which may have long-term consequences. This research builds on a 14-year partnership with a program called APPLE Schools, which delivers a successful intervention to promote healthy living and mental wellbeing to kids from disadvantaged settings and currently operates in 74 elementary schools. APPLE Schools developed innovative easy-to-implement practices to support schools during COVID-19. These practices were designed to promote student healthy living and mental wellbeing to ensure health remained a priority while school communities were faced with challenges. In partnership with APPLE Schools, we have generated an inventory of health promotion practices designed by APPLE Schools in response to COVID-19, and linked these with students’ lifestyles and wellbeing to identify the most successful practices in APPLE Schools during COVID-19. We now propose research to develop an online toolkit, and promote its dissemination and uptake in all APPLE Schools and all elementary schools across Alberta. We will emphasize promotion of the toolkit in schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged settings to speed up pandemic recovery and alleviate health inequalities. We will then evaluate the uptake of the toolkit among school principals and teachers, and assess its impact on students’ lifestyle behaviours (diet, physical activity, screen time, sleep) and mental wellbeing (mood, feelings) in APPLE Schools and an equal number of non-APPLE schools. This study will yield practical, actionable and scalable solutions that will enhance student supports to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children’s health; reduce health inequalities; and provide a resource for future pandemics or disasters.