A university study is showing a disturbing trend: Babies born during the Covid-19 pandemic and children in general are showing significantly lower cognitive levels when compared with children born before 2020.
Rather than IQs of over 100, children are clocking in closer to 78, a dramatic drop in cognitive functions.
With Covid-19 triggering the closure of businesses, nurseries, schools and playgrounds, parents have been stressed out, their children lacked adequate stimulation, and researchers measured a noticeable difference in youngsters compared to the decade studied just prior to the pandemic policies.
“With limited stimulation at home and less interaction with the world outside, pandemic-era children appear to have scored shockingly low on tests designed to assess cognitive development,” wrote the study’s author Sean Deoni, associate professor of pediatrics at Brown University.
“We find that children born during the pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic. Moreover, we find that males and children in lower socioeconomic families have been most affected. Results highlight that even in the absence of direct SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 illness, the environmental changes associated COVID-19 pandemic is significantly and negatively affecting infant and child development,” the study reports.
Since the beginning in March of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic economic shutdowns “brought about significant upheavals to the social, economic, and public health environments in which children live, grow and play. While children, and those under age 5, have largely been spared from the severe health and mortality complications associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection, they have not been immune to the impact of the stay-at-home, masking, and social distancing policies,” the study says.
“These policies, meant to limit spread of the SARS- CoV-2 virus, have closed daycares, schools, parks, and playgrounds [3, 4], and have disrupted children’s educational opportunities, limited explorative play and interaction with other children, and reduced physical activity levels. From the beginning of the pandemic, there has been concern that these public-health policies would adversely impact infant and early child development and mental health. While there is no past analogue or example of non-conflict related wide-spread and prolonged lock-downs from which to draw information from, concern for child development stemmed principally from the known impact that family and home stress, parent and child anxiety, lack of stimulating environments, and other economic and environmental adversities can have on the developing infant and child brain.”
The study looked at children in Rhode Island, with 672 children from the pandemic era included in the study. Of these, 188 were born after July 2020 and 308 were born prior to January 2019, while 176 were born between January 2019 and March 2020. The children included in the study were born full-term, had no developmental disabilities, and were primarily white.
Rhode Island schools were closed from March 16, 2020 through the beginning of the 2021 school year. But most schools continued to have a hybrid in-person/online learning until January 2021.
Daycare centers were closed for three months, and reopened with reduced capacity. Stay-home orders were in effect from March until May, 2020. Indoor and outdoor mask policies were also in place throughout 2020 and much of 2021, following CDC guidance.
From 2009, Brown University and the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University has been home to a longitudinal study of child health and neurodevelopment, called the RESONANCE study. This gave researchers a good baseline of information about children’s cognitive abilities.
The infant brain is born with immense capacity to learn, remodel, and adapt, but is sensitive and vulnerable to neglect and environmental exposures that begin even before birth, the researchers note.
Maternal health, including depression, stress, and anxiety during pregnancy, can impact the developing fetal and infant brain structure and connectivity, leading to potential delays in motor, cognitive, and behavioral development, the researchers said.
“Given these changes in children’s home, education, and social environments, it is not surprising that cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of child and adolescent mental health throughout the current pandemic have revealed increased stress, anxiety, and depression. Studies of child learning further show reduced academic growth in math and language arts in elementary and high school children,” the researchers noted.