Taking an early interest in the impact of lockdown has paid off for two sixth formers from King Edward VI High School for Girls (KEHS).
Premjeet Kang and Noemi Jester have had their research paper on the subject accepted by Public Health in Practice, the official journal of The Royal Society of Public Health. The pair began studying how teenagers’ physical and mental wellbeing were being affected during the first lockdown last March.
“We were lucky that we began our research so early in the pandemic, as it was some of the first undertaken,” said Kang.
“We needed volunteers so we emailed everyone we knew who might be interested – from our own school and others in Birmingham – then chose 55 people who fitted our criteria. Once we’d received ethics approval to use them, we sent them the same questionnaire every week for 10 weeks, including a pre-study one to compare results from before lockdown and one afterwards.”
Questions regarding participants’ physical health focused on changes in sleep patterns, exercise, appetite, headaches, and caffeine and alcohol consumption. Mental health questions, meanwhile, concentrated on social media use, creativity, the ability to socialise, screen time usage levels, and levels of conflict and harmony in the family.
Overall, 51% of participants reported that mental health worsened, indicating that they had suffered from the decrease in social interaction and lower levels of productivity and motivation – Noemi Jester, KEHS
“We processed and analysed the data in several ways,” said Jester, “and among the overall results we found that 70% of our sample experienced a decrease in physical health; 54% reported an increase in their consumption of unhealthy foods, for example. But 30% found their physical health had improved because they were getting more sleep, which resulted in fewer symptoms of sleep deprivation.
“Overall, 51% of participants reported that mental health worsened, indicating that they had suffered from the decrease in social interaction and lower levels of productivity and motivation. The remaining 49% actually said they experienced better mental health, as they had more time for leisure pursuits and doing things they enjoyed.”
Jester added that she and Kang were “ecstatic” that, after making two sets of revisions following peer review, their work had been accepted by Public Health in Practice. “It means all our hard work over the past year has paid off,” she said.
The pair said doing the survey also boosted their own mental health, as it meant they were “constantly busy and engaged, even under lockdown”.
“We’re extremely proud of Prem and Noemi,” said school principal, Kirsty von Malaisé. “They showed great initiative and dedication in devising this research and carrying it through while also working hard for their A-levels, and they thoroughly deserve their success.”
Birmingham City Council have been working with the sixth formers, adding findings from their project to a broader study it is currently conducting.
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