Apr 23, 2024 - Health

"Modest" decreases in kids' development during pandemic, study finds

Illustration of a teddy bear wearing glasses looking at a laptop.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

COVID-era disruptions to daily life led to "modest" delays in reaching developmental milestones among young kids, a new JAMA Pediatrics study found.

Why it matters: The largest study yet of the pandemic's impact on early childhood development validates some parents' concerns about COVID restrictions, but the study's authors said their findings also offer a reason for "cautious optimism."

What they found: The study, led by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, examined data from roughly 50,000 kids from birth to 5 years old based on reports from a web-based screening tool used by primary care physicians.

  • They observed "significant" age-specific decreases in some areas. For instance, communication scores decreased approximately 3% and personal-social and problem-solving scores decreased approximately 2% over a three-year period starting just before the pandemic.
  • "Communication, personal-social, and problem-solving skills are honed during interpersonal interactions and may therefore have been most undermined by parent or caregiver stress during lockdowns, childcare closures, and social distancing," the authors wrote.
  • They saw no changes in fine or gross motor skills during the same time period.
  • The effect was more limited among infants compared with young children.

What we're watching: Researchers cautioned it's important to continue monitoring development in children because the long-term implications of these modest declines are unclear.

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