How did decreased physical and emotional health of families impact children before and during the pandemic?

The physical and mental well-being of children is pivotal to positive long-term outcomes of those children. A recent report looks into the trends in well-being over the past few years, including some time during the pandemic.

Understanding the trends in children’s health are important to maintaining for the well-being of children, which can lead to better long-term outcomes for them. The pandemic is one major way that overall well-being has been negatively impacted. A study discusses the trends in children’s health between 2016 and 2020, including any trends that could be connected to COVID-19 pandemic.1

The investigators used annual data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, which is a population-based survey of randomly selected children that is nationally representative. All of the participants were children aged 0 to 17 years who lived in a noninstituional setting in the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. The survey included questions on a number of topics including a child’s current health conditions, the well-being of the family, as well as their stressors, what sort of health care access and utilization the child had, and any positive health behaviors that the child had.

There were 175,551 children included in the study. The investigators found an increase in depression (3.1% [95% CI, 2.9-3.5] to 4.0% [95% CI, 3.6-4.5]; +27%; trend P < .001) and anxiety (7.1% [95% CI, 6.6-7.6] to 9.2% [95% CI, 8.6-9.8]; +29%; trend P < .001) from 2016 to 2020. A decrease was found in parent or caregiver mental health (69.8% [95% CI, 68.9-70.8] to 66.3% [95% CI, 65.3-67.3]; −5%; trend P < .001), coping with parenting demands (67.2% [95% CI, 66.3-68.1] to 59.9% [95% CI, 58.8-60.9]; −11%; trend P < .001), and daily physical activity (24.2% [95% CI, 23.1-25.3] to 19.8% [95% CI, 18.9-20.8]; −18%; trend P < .001). In the period from 2019 to 2020, the time impacted by the pandemic, there were increases in child care disruptions affecting parental employment (9.4% [95% CI, 8.0-10.9] to 12.6% [95% CI, 11.2-14.1]; +34%; trend P = .001) and behavior or conduct problems (6.7% [95% CI, 6.1-7.4] to 8.1% [95% CI, 7.5-8.8]; +21%; P = .001). A decrease in preventive medical care visits (81.0% [95% CI, 79.7-82.3] to 74.1% [95% CI, 72.9-75.3]; −9%; trend P < .001) was found during the same time period.

The investigators hope that their findings of increased depression and anxiety, along with decreases in physical activity, are used to inform policymaking, future areas of research, and determining clinical care decisions. The findings for the pandemic era offers potential topics to broach with families during well visits.

Reference

1. Lebrun-Harris L, Ghandour R, Kogan M, Warren M. Five-year trends in US children’s health and well-being, 2016-2020. JAMA Pediatr. March 14, 2022. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.0056