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Welsh study shows ‘lifelong footprint’ of the Covid pandemic on children’s mental health

06 Nov 2021 3 minute read
Child at school.

Latest research shows the pandemic has significantly impacted on children’s health, with those from poorer backgrounds suffering greater effects.

Cardiff University conducts a biennial survey which has found that 27% of children surveyed in year 6 reported an increase in “elevated or clinically significant emotional difficulties” between April and June 2021, compared with 17% in the same survey conducted in 2019.

According to The Guardian, the study reveals that in addition to the emotional difficulties, children generally ate fewer vegetables and took part in less exercise, presenting generally less healthily compared to previous years.

The proportion of children eating daily portions of vegetables dropped from 52% in 2019 to 41% in 2021, while those eating fruit every day dropped from 59% to 47%.

Furthermore, the study reveals that in low-income families only 35% of respondents had fresh vegetables daily, compared to 52% of children from more affluent households.

Deeply concerned

Kelly Morgan is a social science research fellow at Cardiff and said the impact of the pandemic was likely to leave a “lifelong footprint” on the mental health of children as they grew older, based on evidence from previous international studies.

She said: “From our findings, children and their families were extensively affected over the course of the pandemic. We know that it was illegal for children to meet others to play at some points, but also that children were deeply concerned about the health of their family and others.”

She suggests that parents may have struggled to regularly buy and keep perishable foods such as fresh vegetables during the 18 months of disruption to family routines.

She added: “On top of all that, many children relied on schools for breakfast and lunch, which could explain some of the drop in fruit and vegetable consumption,”

The study, which was led by Prof Graham Moore and funded by the Welsh government, examined data from 1,863 children in 76 schools, and showed that positive and vital relationships were maintained between teachers and their pupils.

90% of the respondents said they felt cared for by their teachers with 80% feeling they had at least one adult in school they could talk to, demonstrating the significant role schools and teachers have played throughout the pandemic

Moore said: “These connections remained consistently strong among the children we surveyed, demonstrating the vital role education professionals have played for young people during the pandemic.

“It’s plausible that if teachers and support staff hadn’t done such a good job of connecting with their pupils in this way, we would be dealing with an even greater mental health crisis among our children.”

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