How school closures may have impacted children’s life expectancy

November 18, 2020
Miranda Hester
Miranda Hester

Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.

The debate over schools re-opening during the pandemic hasn’t abated and isn’t likely to with the start of a third wave. A model offers insight into how the school disruptions may impact the life expectancy of the affected children.

The debate over schools returning to in-person learning continues, as schools across the country started with one model and then moved to another. As the pandemic is entering its third surge, more schools may be changing their plans again. Disruptions in school have been linked to decreased education attainment, which in turn is linked to lower life expectancy. An investigation in JAMA Network Open looks at the potential impact of the educational upheaval seen in 2020 on the life expectancy of primary school-aged children.1

The researchers created a decision analytical model that was used to estimate the link between the closure of school and reduced educational attainment as well as educational attainment and life expectancy. They used publicly available data sources, which included data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Social Security Administration, and the US Census Bureau. The researchers also estimated the direct COVID-19 mortality and potential increases in mortality that could have occurred if a school opening led to increased transmission of COVID-19.

During the pandemic, there were 24.2 million children aged 5 to 11 years who were attending public schools that were closed as a result of the pandemic. They lost a median of 54 (interquartile range, 48-62.5) days of in-person instruction. In the model, the researchers found that missed instruction was linked to an average loss of 0.31 (95% CI, 0.10-0.65) years of final educational attainment for boys and 0.21 (95% CI, 0.06-0.46) years for girls. When summed across the population, an estimated 5.53 million (95% CI, 1.88-10.80) years of life lost could be tied to school closures. Through the end of May 2020, there were 88,421 US deaths from COVID-19 reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which represented an estimated 1.50 million (95% CI, 1.23-1.85 million) years of life lost. If the schools had stayed open, 1.47 million (95% CI, 0.45-2.59) additional years of life lost could have been expected. When comparing the complete distributions of estimated years of life lost under both “schools open” and “schools closed” conditions, there was a 98.1% probability that school opening would have been linked with a lower total years of life list than school closure.

The researchers concluded that their analysis favored schools remaining open to in-person instruction. They urged those in charge of deciding whether schools should remain open to consider the impact of such closures on educational attainment and life expectancy.

Reference

1. Christakis D, Van Cleve W, Zimmerman F. Estimation of US children’s educational attainment and years of life lost associated with primary school closures during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(11):e2028786. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.28786