The Professional Association of Pediatricians (BVKJ) describes the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, especially the lockdowns, on the health of children and adolescents as “alarming”. “They have acted and continue to act as an intensifier of pre-existing inequalities and development risks,” Thomas Fischbach, President of the BVKJ, said recently at the 51st Day of Pediatricians and Adolescents in Berlin.
Lack of exercise, social isolation and the kilogram of Corona
Be it developmental delays, language acquisition, obesity, or mental disorders: deficits can be observed everywhere. Heilbronn pediatrician Dr. Hans Stechel: “We also have serious defects in all age groups.” On the other hand, it affects physical health: according to the German Obesity Society, every sixth child in Germany has become fatter since the beginning of the Corona pandemic, and about half are moving less than before. “Corona kilos will become a heavy burden for an entire generation,” comments Barbara Bitzer, Director General of the German Diabetes Association.
Mental health problems also increased significantly
“The pandemic has ruined many of the successes,” Stechele says. Lack of exercise, especially in groups, social isolation, irregular meals due to lack of daily structures and excessive consumption of media contribute to the problem of obesity. There isn’t much that can be done with diet alone: ”It often takes a lifestyle change for the whole family.” Outpatient training programs lasting six to twelve months are the most promising. “It just doesn’t work without a high level of self-motivation from the child and family. But you have to have a clear mind for that.”
This is exactly what many children – and parents – can no longer do: psychology suffers, too. Child and adolescent psychiatrist Martin Holtmann of the LWL University Hospital in Hamm spoke at the German Medical Association in May of an increase in eating disorders by 30 to 40 percent, as did anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
“There is a marked increase in mental health problems and illnesses,” confirms Hans Stechel of his clinic in Heilbronn. “Suicide attempts among children and young adults are just the dramatic tip of the iceberg.” The same applies to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. “Exciting here too: very few therapeutic offerings,” he complains. “Psychiatrists and child and youth psychiatrists are totally exhausted, there are waiting times of up to a year.” Inpatient places at the children’s clinic are also tight, SLK chief medical officer Birgitte Stock told the editorial team in April.
The epidemic will have a long-term impact because some experiences are not easy to catch.
The limitations of the pandemic can shape your whole life. “Younger children lack a lot of socialization experience during 15 to 20 percent of their lives. This is dangerous. Neither can be compensated for,” Stechele explains. “You can’t just catch up on five-year developmental experiences when you’re six.” Even young people have not been able to form significant experiences in the past two years. “You’re only 15 or 16 times. Community experiences like school camp, first parties, dance lessons, trips with clubs – that’s missing in these resumes. This can’t be retrieved.”
Reading and math skills have deteriorated dramatically
The situation of children and youth after two years of Corona is particularly problematic in the field of education. Because lessons have been canceled, students’ reading and math skills have declined significantly, says Annick Weersberg, a spokeswoman for COVerChild (Children and Youth in the Epidemic).
Heilbronn pediatrician Hans Stechel notes that many children are repeating the school year because they have not been able to deal well with distance learning. “We can clearly see the deficits in younger children who have grown up in a home that does not speak German,” he says. “German skills are completely lost or can only be acquired later. This may have an impact on leaving school years later.”