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Covid-19: The big downsides to school closures

22 March 2020 - 00:00 By Suthentira Govender
Researchers say home confinement might negatively impact on children’s physical and mental health.
Researchers say home confinement might negatively impact on children’s physical and mental health.
Image: REUTERS/Aleksander Solum

Mass school closures in the face of Covid-19 could result in unhealthy, chubby, anxious children who may be more addicted to screens than ever.

Using China as an example, researchers say that while the closure of schools is commendable and necessary, home confinement during a disease outbreak might negatively impact on children’s physical and mental health.

Research published in international journal The Lancet suggests that when children are out of school they are less physically active and have much longer screen time, irregular sleep patterns and less favourable diets.

The researchers believe such negative effects on health are likely to be much worse when children are confined to their homes without outdoor activities and interaction with friends of the same age.

“Stressors such as prolonged duration, fears of infection, frustration and boredom, inadequate information, lack of in-person contact with classmates, friends and teachers, lack of personal space at home, and family financial loss can have even more problematic and enduring effects on children and adolescents,” said the researchers.

According to the Association for Dietetics in SA (Adsa), in times of crisis children tend to eat emotionally because the rational part of their brains is still developing.

“Children eating emotionally in this time — including choosing unhealthy, comforting foods and portion sizes not controlled — immediately makes sense during this crisis time,” said Adsa’s Retha Harmse.

“Not only is their entire routine disrupted, they are being isolated from their friends and also there is this unusual panic from the usually steady and ‘rational’ adults in their lives — which leads to complete emotional uncertainty and food being used as soothing and as a coping mechanism.”

Parenting expert Nikki Bush said a concern about children being confined indoors for long periods of time “is that it can lead them to feelings of irritation, frustration, depression and feeling out of control”.

Psychologist Dr Ingrid Artus said though parents “may be tempted to resort to an increase in screen-time activities to keep children busy, this type of sedentary activity is not recommended on a regular basis”.


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