School closures are detrimental to the well-being of children
It is becoming more and more apparent that schools are a fundamental part of learning. But in addition to learning, schools are also important for the general health and well-being of children. As this article in the Economist summarizes
School not only gives structure to pupils’ lives, affording them less time to stare at a phone, spacing out their meals and prompting them to go to bed earlier. It also forces them to move around more. Break-time kickabouts and games lessons help hugely. Even the physical act of going to school—the walk to the bus stop or the cycle ride to class—adds to youngsters’ daily exercise.
Ergo, keeping kids out of the classrooms harms them in other ways apart from learning loss. Research has in fact shown that children are developing unhealthy habits and are more sedentary than they would otherwise be if they were going to school.
According to the Economist,
A new study in Obesity, a science journal, looked at already overweight youngsters who were confined to their apartments in Verona, Italy, during the coronavirus outbreak. It found that although the children’s intake of fruit and vegetables was unchanged, within three weeks they were consuming considerably more crisps, sugary drinks and red meat. The researchers found they were sitting down, on average, to one extra meal every day.
One reason for this is that they spent more time gawping at their phones, televisions and computers. Screen time among the Obesity survey sample increased by close to five hours a day. That not only means more time spent sedentary, but is also linked to higher consumption of unhealthy foods.
According to a study by the University of Wisconsin, during the pandemic American children over the age of ten have engaged in 50% less physical activity. Younger children who spend more of their time staring at a screen than running around (or vice versa) tend to carry that behaviour into adolescence, says Anthony Okely of the University of Wollongong in Australia. Lack of sleep is another problem, he says. Children have spent on average half an hour less in the land of nod while under confinement, he reckons. Worse, their sleep patterns have changed. Locked-down kids are going to bed much later (and lying in a little longer). Such behaviour is associated with poorer cognition and self-regulation. It may also increase a child’s weight.
It is also important to keep in mind that school is a big part of kids’ social life. With school closures, children are not only picking up unhealthy habits but are also isolated from their friends, which could increase their risk of developing mental health problems like depression and anxiety.