Operationalizing ‘best practices’ that promote healthy lifestyles and mental health to mitigate the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic 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 13-year partnership with a program called APPLE Schools, which delivers a successful intervention to promote healthy living and mental health 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 health to ensure health remained a priority while school communities were faced with challenges. In partnership with APPLE Schools, we collected data on students’ lifestyle behaviours (diet, physical activity, screen time, sleep) and mental health (mood, feelings) in 20 schools during COVID-19. We also gathered data on COVID‑19 lived experiences through interviews with students and their families, and data on school supports during COVID‑19 reported by principals. We have also generated an inventory of health promotion practices delivered in APPLE Schools during COVID-19. We now propose research to identify and document the most successful practices in APPLE Schools during COVID-19, develop an online Best Practices Toolkit, and promote dissemination and uptake of the toolkit in all APPLE Schools and other elementary schools across Alberta. We will emphasize promotion of the toolkit in schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged settings to accelerate pandemic recovery and to alleviate health inequalities. The knowledge from this study will yield practical, actionable and scalable solutions that will enhance student supports to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health and lifestyle behaviours.