Corona and the children: 12 October 2022 at 10.25

The corona pandemic has massive consequences for the health of children and young people in Thuringia. According to a new analysis from DAK-Gesundheit for the years 2018 to 2021, individual mental illnesses in certain age groups increased dramatically…

From 2019 to 2021, there were 73 percent more cases of obesity among 5- to 9-year-old girls in Bavaria. The number of schoolgirls newly diagnosed with depression between the ages of 15 and 17 increased by 33 percent. Anxiety disorders in the age group of 10 to 14-year-old girls also increased by 69 percent. This is shown by the results of the child and youth report from DAK-Gesundheit for Thuringia. For the largest representative study in the country, data from outpatient and inpatient treatments from 17,000 children and young people were scientifically examined and compared with data before the pandemic.

DAK child and youth report shows sharp increase in psychological problems (Photo: iStock-Imgorthand/DAK-Gesundheit)

“Our current report for Thuringia is a wake-up call and reveals an urgent need for action in many facets of child and adolescent health,” says Marcus Kaiser, State Director of DAK-Gesundheit in Thuringia. “Many girls and boys are not feeling well. We must do something urgently. State policy must also put the issue of children’s and young people’s health at the top of their agenda. The topics of mental health, healthy nutrition and sports should play an important role here. Our report can provide important insight into the development of health policy initiatives.”

Fewer doctor visits, medication and hospital stays
In the second year of Corona, fewer children and young people came to Thuringian medical practices and hospitals than before the pandemic. In 2021, doctor visits decreased by one percent and hospital stays by 20 percent compared to 2019. There were particularly large decreases in outpatient and inpatient treatment for infectious diseases (minus 21 percent) and musculoskeletal disorders (minus 12 percent). In 2021, 12 percent fewer children and young people were prescribed medicine than in the period before Corona. For example, the number of prescribed antibiotics fell by 49 percent.

Obesity increase in all age groups
The number of new cases of obesity in Thuringia shows a significant increase across all genders and age groups. The sharpest increase was in girls aged five to nine. The number of obesity cases treated for the first time by a doctor increased by 73 percent. The age groups of 10 to 14-year-old girls (+ 53 percent) and 15 to 17-year-old teenage girls (+ 17 percent) also show significant increases. The age group 15-17 years is a particular focus for boys in Bavaria. Here there was an increase of 39 percent, which was even higher than the girls’. Particularly striking: In the federal government, the increase was lower in all age groups. Extrapolated to all insured children aged five to 17, around 7,000 had to be treated medically in Thuringia in 2021 due to severe obesity.

Depression: big differences between girls and boys

Girls and boys in Thuringia suffer differently from the effects of the corona pandemic and the related measures. This is shown by the example of depression. In 2021, new treatments for depression in 10- to 14-year-old girls increased by 49 percent compared to the pre-corona period. In boys of the same age, however, the incidence fell by 49 percent. With an increase of 33 percent, there were also significantly more new cases among 15 to 17-year-old girls than among boys, who only registered an increase of twelve percent. What is striking is the significantly greater increase in depression across both age groups and gender compared to the federal government. Medically treated depression increased by only eight percent in both relevant age groups. At the same time, the newly diagnosed teenage girls received medication much more frequently. The proportion of 15- to 17-year-old girls who took antidepressant treatment increased by 38 percent in 2021 compared to 2019. About one in five 15- to 17-year-old girls newly diagnosed with depression in 2021 were prescribed medication (20 percentage).

For Thuringian girls aged ten to 14, the number of new cases of anxiety disorders increased by 69 percent compared to 2019. For boys of the same age, on the other hand, the number increased by only seven percent. Teenage girls aged 15 to 17 have also seen a seven per cent increase, while teenage boys have seen a 24 per cent drop since the pandemic began.

“The results of our child and youth report show that young girls in Thuringia are suffering particularly during the pandemic,” says DAK head of state Kaiser. “They also show that girls and boys handle stress differently and naturally develop different compensation strategies. We know from other studies that girls find it easier to open up and talk about their problems. Boys tend to suppress these and seek refuge in for example media consumption. Experts therefore expect the number of mental illnesses and behavioral disorders to increase in the medium term, also among teenagers.”

For the children and young people report, researchers from Vandage and the University of Bielefeld examined accounting data from around 17,000 Thuringian children and young people up to the age of 17 who are insured with DAK-Gesundheit in Thuringia. The years 2018 to 2021 were analyzed. In 2021, for example, 80,000 doctor visits, 75,000 doctor prescriptions and 3,000 hospitalizations were included in the analysis.

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