Statistics Canada says the combination of increased screen time and less physical activity during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic was more pronounced among girls than boys aged 12 to 17.

A report released Wednesday found that, overall, Canadian preteen and teen girls became less active and engaged in more screen time in 2021 compared to 2018.

The report noted a similar trend among boys in the same age group, but boys' level of physical activity rebounded in 2021 to pre-pandemic levels while no rebound was evident for girls.

StatCan says that from 2018 to 2021, total physical activity dropped by nearly 15 minutes per week among boys and by about 58 minutes per week among girls.

The report says the percentage of boys meeting the physical activity recommendation of 60 minutes per day or more, on average, decreased to just under 40 per cent in the fall of 2020 from 60 per cent in early 2020. It then rose to more than 52 per cent in 2021.

The percentage of girls meeting the physical activity recommendation decreased to nearly 35 per cent in the fall of 2020 from 47 per cent in early 2020, and remained at this lower level in 2021, the report says.

The report also says the proportion of youth who met the screen time recommendation of two hours or less per day fell during the pandemic.

On school days, it dropped to about 29 per cent in 2021 from just over 40 per cent in 2018. On non-school days, that percentage dropped to about 13 in 2021, from just over 21 in 2018.

Like physical activity, the drop was more pronounced among girls.

On school days, the proportion of girls who met the screen time recommendation fell by 14 percentage points compared to nine percentage points for boys. On non-school days, the drop was about 10 percentage points for girls and about six points for boys.

The report found that these increases and decreases seemed to coincide with specific waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The StatCan report is based on data from the Canadian Community Health Survey that asked youth aged 12 to 17 to report their screen time and how much time they spent being active at school, home and for recreation purposes.

StatCan then analyzed the trends from January 2018 to February 2022.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2023.