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The physical performance of children in Japan worsened in fiscal 2021, which began in April, from two years before as the COVID-19 pandemic deprived them of opportunities for exercise, a survey by the Japan Sports Agency showed Friday.

The overall performance score dropped for both boys and girls in the fifth grade of elementary school and the second grade of junior high school. The scores for boys hit their lowest levels since the survey began in fiscal 2008.

The survey was conducted between April and July on some 1.03 million fifth-grade elementary school students and some 980,000 second-grade junior high school students. Their physical performance was evaluated in eight categories. The annual survey was canceled in fiscal 2020 due to the pandemic.

For boys in the fifth grade of elementary school, the total score fell to 52.5 points from 53.6 points in fiscal 2019. For girls, the score dropped to 54.7 points from 55.6 points.

In the second grade of junior high school, the score for boys declined to 41.1 points from 41.6 points. For girls, the score fell to 48.4 points from 50 points.

By category, scores dropped sharply in sit-ups, side-to-side jumping and long-distance running. Scores were also on a downtrend in the 50-meter sprint and ball-throwing. The score rose slightly in stretching.

The survey also showed that the share of boys in the younger group who spend seven hours or more on physical play and sports per week, excluding physical education, fell below 50% for the first time. The share was also lower for all other groups.

Some 40% of the children said they had less time to spend on exercise because of the pandemic, while about 30% said they had more, highlighting that children are becoming increasingly polarized in terms of time they spend on exercise.

The survey showed that children spent more time using smartphones and playing games. In the fifth grade of elementary school, 15.9% of boys had a daily screen time of five hours or more.

The obesity rate for all boys and the younger group of girls also hit record highs, according to the survey.

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