The Pediatricians’ Professional Association (BVKJ) describes the consequences of the corona pandemic and in particular the closures for children and young people’s health as “worrying”. “They acted and still act as an amplifier of pre-existing inequalities and development risks,” said Thomas Fischbach, chairman of BVKJ, recently at the 51st Pediatricians’ Day in Berlin.
Lack of exercise, social isolation and corona kilos
Whether developmental delays, language acquisition, obesity or mental disorders: deficiencies can be observed everywhere. “There are only a few rays of hope at the moment,” confirms Heilbronn pediatrician Dr. Hans Stechele: “We also have serious disadvantages in all age groups.” On the one hand, it affects physical health: According to the German Obesity Society, every sixth child in Germany has become obese since the beginning of the corona pandemic, and almost half are moving less than before. “The corona kilos will be a heavy burden for an entire generation,” says Barbara Bitzer, CEO of the German diabetes company.
Mental problems have also increased significantly
“The pandemic has ruined many successes,” Stechele says. Lack of exercise, especially in groups, social isolation, irregular meals due to lack of daily structures and excessive media consumption contribute to the obesity problem. There is little that can be done with a diet alone: ”It often requires a lifestyle change for the whole family.” Outpatient training programs lasting six to twelve months are the most promising. “It does not go without a high self-motivation from the child and the family. But you have to have a clear head for that.”
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This is exactly what many children – and parents – can no longer do: The psyche suffers too. Child and adolescent psychiatrist Martin Holtmann from LWL University Hospital in Hamm spoke in the German Medical Association in May about an increase in eating disorders of 30 to 40 percent, and anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder had also increased.
“There is a marked increase in mental health problems and illnesses,” confirms Hans Stechele from his Heilbronn practice. “Suicide attempts among children and young people are only the dramatic tip of the iceberg.” The same goes for eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. “Dramatic here too: far too few therapeutic offers,” he complains. “Psychologists and psychiatrists for children and adolescents are completely overwhelmed, there are waiting times of up to a year.” Day places in the pediatric clinic are also scarce, as SLK chief physician Birgit Stock told our editorial staff in April.
The pandemic will have a lasting effect because certain experiences are not easy to catch up with
Limitations from the pandemic can shape your entire life. “Younger children lack significant socialization experience for 15 to 20 percent of their lives. It’s serious. It can’t be remedied either,” Stechele explains. “You can not just catch up on the developmental experiences of the fifth year of life when you are six.” Even young people have not been able to make important experiences in the last two years. “You’re only 15 or 16 once. Community experiences like school camps, first parties, dance classes, club trips – those are missing in these biographies. It’s irrevocable.”
Reading and math skills have been significantly impaired
The situation of children and young people after two years of Corona is particularly problematic in the field of education. Due to the canceled classes, students’ reading and math skills have dropped significantly, says Annic Weyersberg, spokeswoman for COVerChild (children and young people in the pandemic).
Heilbronn’s pediatrician Hans Stechele observed that many children repeat a school year because they were unable to cope with distance learning. “We can see the deficits particularly clearly in younger children growing up in a non-German-speaking household,” he says. “German skills are completely lost or can only be acquired much later. It can have an impact on school dropout. Certificates years later.”