School closures are detrimental to the well-being of children
Schools are a fundamental part of learning, and that is becoming more and more apparent. But in addition to learning, schools are also much more important for the health and well-being of children.
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.
Because of the huge impact that the school environment has on kids, the lockdown is harming children’s health. A growing body of evidence is suggesting that kids are being harmed by being kept away from school. Research has shown that children are developing more and more unhealthy habits and are more sedentary.
Among other things, research has found that
(1) Children have been eating more unhealthy during the pandemic
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.
(2) Children have seen an increase in sloth habits
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.
Low-income and minority kids will be disproportionately affected
In all of this, it seems that hard-up kids will suffer most. They are more likely to rely on schools for nutritious meals. They are also less likely to have the space at home in which to exercise. And as their neighbourhoods tend to be more dangerous, playing outside is less appealing.
according to Aspen’s survey, although 60% of parents who earn over $100,000 say their kids will resume sports at the same or higher level once pandemic restrictions are lifted, only 44% of those earning under $50,000 say the same. Furthermore, because ethnic minorities in America appear to be at greater risk from the virus, black and Asian parents are more fearful that their children will fall ill while playing sports. They are correspondingly less likely to say their kids will resume activity once the pandemic passes.
Kids mental health will also likely suffer
Kids spend a great deal of their time in school so it is a huge part of their social life. The school closures have affected that. Kids are spending their time in isolation. Research suggests this will lead to an increase in the likelihood of children and adolescents developing depression and anxiety.