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More Than Two-Thirds of High School Athletes Report Anxiety and Depression Since Pandemic

Madison, Wisconsin - A recent survey of high school athletes across the nation suggests that the cancellation of youth sports since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents.

The study, completed by a team of physicians, child health experts and researchers from UW Health and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, found that approximately 68 percent of the 3,243 student-athletes surveyed reported feelings of anxiety and depression at levels that would typically require medical intervention - that's up 37 percent from past research studies.

The study also reported that physical activity levels were 50 percent lower than they were for kids prior to the pandemic and that quality-of-life scores were lower than researchers had ever found in similar studies of adolescents.

"The results of the study are both striking and concerning," said Dr. Claudia Reardon, associate professor of psychiatry at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "We know that exercise and physical activity are powerful antidepressant and anti-anxiety interventions, and we strongly encourage public health experts and school administrators to thoughtfully consider both the benefits and risks of prolonged school closures and sport cancellations. We hope that any plan moving forward addresses not only our kids' physical health and safety, but their social development and emotional wellbeing as well."

Reardon and other UW Health colleagues helped to develop guidelines and considerations released by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to help navigate the return to youth sports in Wisconsin. UW Health also supports following Department of Health Services and Centers for Disease Control guidance to safely protect kids and our community from the spread and unknown risks of COVID-19.

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Watch: UW Health Athletic Trainer and Researcher Discusses the Study

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