While children and young people rarely seem to be the victims of severe COVID-19, they are experiencing indirect adverse effects of the pandemic on their mental and physical health, according to researchers.
Dr Neil Chanchlani from the University of Exeter in the UK has described a range of potential adverse effects and contributing factors for kids and young people as well as mitigation strategies for health care providers and health systems.
“We should anticipate that they will experience substantial indirect physical, social and mental health effects related to reduced access to health care and general pandemic control measures,” said Chanchlani.
Forced isolation and economic uncertainty may lead to an increase in family violence, contributing to mental and physical trauma.
School cancellations may heighten food insecurity for children who depend on meal programmes and increase vulnerability with the loss of school as a safe place.
“Lost social interaction and lack of structured routines may lead to increased screen time, decreased physical activity, lack of concentration, anxiety and early depression,” the authors wrote in the paper that appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
Families living in inadequate or crowded housing may experience heightened stress or conflict, which can affect the mental and physical health of children.
Refugees, some indigenous communities and low-income families living with financial strain and food insecurity are particularly vulnerable.
Restrictions and cancellations of child welfare visits to at-risk families can reduce visits of birth parents and children in foster care, leading to harms.
The adverse effects also include widespread delays or omissions of routine childhood vaccinations, which can threaten herd immunity; missed detection of delayed development milestones, which are usually identified during routine child health checks and delays in seeking care for non-COVID-19-related illnesses, which can lead to severe illness and even death.
“Delays in bringing children and young people to medical attention may be due to parental fears of exposure to Covid-19 in hospitals or on public transit, lack of childcare for other children, lack of access to primary care due to closures, or changes to hospital visitation policies,” explained Dr Peter Gill from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), Toronto, Canada.
“We owe it to our children and young people to proactively measure the COVID-19 pandemic’s indirect effects on their health and to take steps to mitigate the collateral damage,” the authors wrote.