The COVID-19 quarantine has caused a decline in the health of children and adolescents across the globe.
The coronavirus pandemic is a great human tragedy that has impacted everyone, some more drastically than others. Unfortunately, children are not indifferent to its destructive toll. The forced need to live in confinement and lack of social interaction has had a significant impact in the mental and physical well-being of children all over the world. Over one year later, we are confirming the long-term consequences of confinement with reliable research.
Weight Gain and Loss of Cardiorespiratory Fitness
Outside of COVID-19, evidence supports that when children are out of school (i.e. summer or holidays), they are less physically active, have much longer screen time, irregular sleep patterns, and poor diets, resulting in weight gain and a loss of cardiorespiratory fitness. COVID-19 has only expounded on these negative effects, especially since children were confined to their homes without the normal outdoor activities and interactions with friends.
One prospective cohort study examined the cardiorespiratory fitness in Spanish adolescents before and after the COVID-19 confinement. The results indicated that COVID-19 confinement delayed the normal development of maximal oxygen intake (VO2 max) levels.
Another study of a total of 764 Australian children aged 7–10 years examined the impact of COVID-19 on cardiovascular health. The results indicated substantial reductions in cardiorespiratory fitness as well as increases in BMI standard deviation scores.
Spending more time inside focused on computer screens has affected the eyesight of the youngest school children according to researchers in Tianjin, China. Findings were presented at the virtual Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) 2021 annual meeting and published in JAMA Ophthalmology.
In the cross-sectional study that included 194 ,904 photoscreening tests conducted in 123 ,535 children, a substantial myopic shift (−0.3 diopters) was noted after home confinement due to COVID-19 for children aged 6 to 8 years. The prevalence of myopia (nearsightedness) increased 1.4 to 3 times in 2020 compared with the previous 5 years.
Emotional Impact of COVID-19 Confinement
The first study to examine the emotional impact of the quarantine on children and adolescents from Italy and Spain showed that 85.7% of parents perceived drastic changes. Participants included 1,143 parents of Italian and Spanish children aged 3 to 18 years who completed a survey providing information about how the quarantine affected their children compared to before the home confinement. The most frequent symptoms were difficulty concentrating (76.6%), boredom (52%), irritability (39%), restlessness (38.8%), nervousness (38%), feelings of loneliness (31.3%), uneasiness (30.4%), and worries (30.1%).
Anxiety, Sleep, and Executive Functioning
A study was carried out with the intention of examining the consequences of confinement on anxiety, sleep routines, and executive functioning of 1,028 children and adolescents, aged from 6 to 18 years, residing in Spain.
Based on the data, the researchers noted, “It is unquestionable that the confined population, in comparison with the non-confined, there was a greater deterioration in anxiety, rest, and effectiveness in executive functions.”
These findings were in line with those found by Jiao (2020) who, using a sample of 320 children and adolescents between the ages of 3 and 18 and with the aim of detecting behavioral and emotional disorders during confinement, found that the most common problems presented were those related to attention, irritability, fear of asking about the coronavirus, and ambivalent attachment behaviors. However, sleep problems, lack of appetite and hyperactivity were also detected.
Autism Symptom Severity
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families have represented a fragile population on which the extreme circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak may have doubly impaired. One study found children with ASD exhibited significantly greater sleep problems and autism symptom scores during the home confinement period than during the normal (non-home confinement) state.
The above issues are just a small sampling of the deleterious health affects confinement has had on children and adolescents. These do not take into account additional factors which have impacted children during the pandemic such as low socioeconomic status, lack of access to medical care or food, familial conflicts, and child abuse (to name a few). It will take years to uncover the full impact of the COVID-19 quarantine as well as the steps needed to mitigate poor outcomes.
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