The European Parliament approved on Tuesday, 13 September, with a solid cross-party majority - 522 votes in favour, 12 against and 79 abstentions - a report on the impact of COVID-19 closures of educational, cultural, youth and sports activities on children and young people in the EU.
This report aims to address the negative consequences of the pandemic on the mental health and general well-being of children and young people. Mental health problems have doubled in some Member States compared to pre-crisis levels, leading experts to mention the surge of a “silent pandemic”. It was observed that 64% of young people aged 18-34 were at risk of depression in the spring of 2021 and that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people due to loneliness, isolation and lack of academic, employment and financial prospects.
The report gives concrete policy recommendations on how to overcome the adverse consequences of the crisis and promote the well-being of the younger generation. The report calls on the European Commission to designate a European Year of Mental Health and to develop a European plan for the protection of mental health in education, vocational training, and informal and non-formal learning. The report states that a successful mental health strategy should involve families, youth organisations, but also sports clubs, in addition to cultural organisations, schools and teachers.
Furthermore, the report acknowledges that sport and activities have a positive impact on the youth. In this regard, the Rapporteur calls for a holistic approach to health that strives to encompass mental, social and physical well-being through promoting sportive activities and supporting local sports associations, among others. Members of the European Parliament shed a light on the negative impact connected to the closures of culture and sports facilities, arguing it has “reduced the levels of physical fitness in young people to such an extent that, currently only one in four 11-year-olds carry out enough physical activity”. The report mentions that this situation “has led to one in three children being overweight or obese, increasing the risk for disability and greater morbidity”. The report stresses the benefits of promoting sporting activities which stimulate an inclusive, dynamic and healthy learning environment. With this in mind, the report also emphasises the importance of exchanging good practices among professors, teachers, educators, trainers, youth workers, and sports coaches. It considers that it is “strengthening the international and multilingual dimension of the 2025 European Education Area”.
The European Parliament urges the Member States to develop sports infrastructure and to adequately fund local sports clubs considering that physical activity contributes to both mental well-being and personal development.