Using COVID-19 Pandemic as a Prism: A Systematic Review of Methodological Approaches and the Quality of Empirical Studies on Physical Activity Behavior Change.
Frontiers in sports and active living. 2022;:864468
Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of scientific endeavors. The goal of this systematic review is to evaluate the quality of the research on physical activity (PA) behavior change and its potential to contribute to policy-making processes in the early days of COVID-19 related restrictions. Methods: We conducted a systematic review of methodological quality of current research according to PRISMA guidelines using Pubmed and Web of Science, of articles on PA behavior change that were published within 365 days after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Items from the JBI checklist and the AXIS tool were used for additional risk of bias assessment. Evidence mapping is used for better visualization of the main results. Conclusions about the significance of published articles are based on hypotheses on PA behavior change in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Results: Among the 1,903 identified articles, there were 36% opinion pieces, 53% empirical studies, and 9% reviews. Of the 332 studies included in the systematic review, 213 used self-report measures to recollect prepandemic behavior in often small convenience samples. Most focused changes in PA volume, whereas changes in PA types were rarely measured. The majority had methodological reporting flaws. Few had very large samples with objective measures using repeated measure design (pre and during the pandemic). In addition to the expected decline in PA duration, these studies show that many of those who were active prepandemic, continued to be active during the pandemic. Conclusions: Research responded quickly at the onset of the pandemic. However, most of the studies lacked robust methodology, and PA behavior change data lacked the accuracy needed to guide policy makers. To improve the field, we propose the implementation of longitudinal cohort studies by larger organizations such as WHO to ease access to data on PA behavior, and suggest those institutions set clear standards for this research. Researchers need to ensure a better fit between the measurement method and the construct being measured, and use both objective and subjective measures where appropriate to complement each other and provide a comprehensive picture of PA behavior.