A lot has already been said about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed lives around the world. In what seems to be a never-ending cascade of events, the pandemic has continued to cause physical, mental, professional, and economic suffering to people globally.
The pandemic may have affected adults more and disproportionately so. Children, as an age group, have fortunately been spared from the worst health effects of COVID-19.
The number of children getting infected with COVID-19, or falling severely ill with it, has been far lesser when compared to the number of adults affected by it.
However, the cumulative and sometimes invisible indirect impact of the pandemic on children's physical and mental health cannot be dismissed.
If adults have been finding it difficult to deal with life in the pandemic, one can only imagine how the lives of children have been affected.
Schools are closed, playgrounds are off-limits, and children are required to stay at home all the time, with minimal access to the outside world. Moreover, the fact that most parts of their lives are to be accessed through a screen now could really get overwhelming for them.
Unlike adults, children may not have the capacity or tools to process their emotions or name the myriad feelings that they are encountering as a result of such a massive upheaval in their lives. They may also not have the patience and understanding to wait for things to improve.
Let’s take a look at the effect of the pandemic on children's health.
Impact on Physical Health
Children are usually active beings, with a lot of energy to spare. This activity is important for their overall growth and development. The physical health of children has been hit by the pandemic in various ways.
Limited Physical Activity: With schools closing down, and no playtime allowed, most kids have seen a reduction in physical activity and an increase in sedentary behaviour.
Rise in Obesity: The reduction in physical activity, hours of screen time at once, and change in eating habits have caused a rise in the incidence of obesity among children.
Eye Strain: Most kids are attracted to gadgets and screens. However, the pandemic has forced them to look at screens for learning, playing, and any kind of social interaction with friends and family. The increased screen time has taken a toll on their eyes, leading to frequent complaints of eye strain and headaches.
Lack of Regular Healthcare: Children with disabilities or pre-existing long-term health conditions have difficulty accessing regular healthcare during the pandemic.
This may be the result of their parents delaying access to healthcare due to concerns about exposure to COVID-19 or lack of availability of non-COVID-19 related healthcare during such difficult times. These delays in access impact children who require ongoing care to address their complex needs.
Impact on Mental Health
Mental health has been one of the most neglected health aspects during the present pandemic, as the problems are not as easily visible as that of physical health.
Also, parents may not be aware of the signs to watch out for that indicate mental distress in children. Some of how the mental health of children has been affected during the pandemic are:
Social Isolation: Children have been deprived of the social interaction resulting from their educational and recreational activities, resulting in isolation which may seem even more unnatural to children, when compared to adults. This isolation and loneliness may increase the chances of mental health problems in children presently or in the future.
Anxiety Issues: The impact of the pandemic on their lives, the uncertainty regarding the future, and the change in routine has caused anxiety issues in many children. Increased stress can impair cognitive development in children and may cause long-term mental health challenges.
Family Hardship: Many families have seen disease and death during the present pandemic. If not personal, families have seen financial hardships in the form of loss of income and struggle to meet basic needs.
The stress that parents feel in such situations may also affect the children in the family directly or indirectly. Further, tired parents may not have the bandwidth to recognise signs of mental distress in children. The grief and stress of the present times have also affected the mental health of children.
These are trying times. Take care of yourself so that you are better equipped to take care of your children. Do not neglect perceivable changes in your child’s physical or mental health.
Take proactive steps to take care of your child’s physical health under these limiting circumstances.
Also, communicate often with your child to gauge their mental health, and talk to a professional if needed.
1. Jenssen, B., Kelly, M., Powell, M., Bouchelle, Z., Mayne, S. and Fiks, A., 2021. COVID-19 and Changes in Child Obesity.
2. Unicef.org. 2021. The impact of COVID-19 on children's mental health. [online] Available at: <https://www.unicef.org/india/impact-covid-19-childrens-mental-health> [Accessed 5 August 2021].
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