Pandemic school closures have more negative impacts on kids than just poorer grades

WASHINGTON — School closures during the pandemic have had a negative impact on children in many different ways — going beyond academics, a new study warns.

A team from the Children’s National Hospital says enforced online learning during COVID lockdowns has led to a host of consequences for youngsters including disengagement, mental health challenges, unhealthy weight gain, food insecurity, and even an increase in the onset of type 2 diabetes.

“The toll that school closures and social isolation have had on kids’ mental health cannot be overstated,” Dr. Danielle Dooley, medical director of Community Affairs and Population Health in the Child Health Advocacy Institute, tells SWNS in a statement.

“As the latest Omicron wave has shown, these discussions are not behind us. We must continue to fully weigh how each decision can impact the lives of children.”

Balancing safety with getting kids back outdoors

In the new report, Dr. Dooley and fellow researchers urge that society needs to balance measures to contain COVID-19, while “supporting the physical and mental health of kids.”

“The events and influences in childhood and adolescence have long-lasting impacts on the health and well-being of youth,” Dr. Dooley says.

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When considering that COVID could become endemic, Dr. Dooley stresses the importance of continually assessing the impact of how the pandemic is affecting children. This includes how the last two years has impacted education, health care access and disparities, family stress, and functioning.

Dr. Dooley adds that changes are necessary at the practice, research, policy, systems, and school infrastructure levels. The researchers explain that while children are resilient, resiliency requires systemic support, investment, and more research into the short, medium, and long-term impacts on children.

From clinical care to partnerships and collaboration with local school systems and community-based organizations, study authors say the Children’s National Hospital takes a “holistic approach” to meet the needs of children and their families.

With funding from the United Health Foundation, Children’s National has deployed its Mobile Medical Unit, which delivers vaccination services and visits to children.

“This is a critical part of the pandemic response, both to ensure children do not fall further behind in immunizations and to provide additional access point options for families to receive immunizations,” Dr. Hope Rhodes, the medical director for the Mobile Medical Program, tells SWNS.

The report is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

South West News Service writer Georgia Lambert contributed to this report.