Disturbing preliminary findings by researchers in a new U.S. study allege that children born during the pandemic exhibit significantly lower IQ scores than babies who were born before January 2020.
The culprit could be the fact that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are the most crucial in their development cycle. The pandemic has impacted that growth period, according to the study.
The researchers’ findings were posted on medRxiv before a peer-review occurred on Aug. 11. A survey was conducted among approximately 672 children in Rhode Island. The majority of the babies were white and 39 of them were born in 2018 and 2019.
Pre-pandemic babies were estimated in the study to have an IQ ranging from 98.5 to 107.3. Babies born during the pandemic saw their IQ shockingly drop 27 to 37 points.
The abstract from the study reads:
Since the first reports of novel coronavirus in the 2020, public health organizations have advocated preventative policies to limit virus, including stay-at home orders that closed businesses, daycares, schools, playgrounds, and limited child learning and typical activities. Fear of infection and possible employment loss has placed stress on parents; while parents who could work from home faced challenges in both working and providing full-time attentive childcare. For pregnant individuals, fear of attending prenatal visits also increased maternal stress, anxiety, and depression. Not surprising, there has been concern over how these factors, as well as missed educational opportunities and reduced interaction, stimulation, and creative play with other children might impact child neurodevelopment. Leveraging a large on-going longitudinal study of child neurodevelopment, we examined general childhood cognitive scores in 2020 and 2021 vs. the preceding decade, 2011-2019. 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.
A number of environmental factors were taken into consideration including nutrition, maternal mental and physical health, stimulation, and supportive caregiving. All of these impact a child’s development. The study blames lockdown policies that were put in place to try and slow the spread of the virus. These include mask-wearing, economic shutdowns, school disruptions, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders.
Other items that should have been considered included over sterilization of a baby’s environment and isolation from family members and other humans.
Because of these issues, babies born after January 2020 from lower socio-economic backgrounds, primarily minority children, had a more dramatic decline in IQ scores than white children on average.
“While socioeconomic factors appear to mitigate against the negative consequences of the pandemic, the primary factors underlying our observed trends remain unknown,” researchers noted.
They are suggesting that a number of factors are at play in the study that could affect cognitive development, including the shut down of child care providers and changing workplace environments.
The study found that babies of mothers with college degrees who were born during the COVID pandemic were less likely to suffer lower IQs.
That fact could be due to family or social support that positively impacted the well-being of the mother. In turn, that can affect an infant’s temperament, behavior, and cognitive development. The mother’s stress level is also a factor in the child’s development.
“Parents are stressed and frazzled … that interaction the child would normally get has decreased substantially,” Sean Deoni, the lead study author and Brown University associate professor of pediatric research told The Guardian. He added that the lack of stimulation during the pandemic has created setbacks that will be hard for these children to overcome. “The ability to course-correct becomes smaller the older that child gets.”
“It’s not subtle by any stretch,” Deoni stated. “You don’t typically see things like that, outside of major cognitive disorders.”
Interestingly, the study also showed that more male children were affected than females.
Children who were born before the pandemic kicked in don’t show significantly lower verbal, non-verbal, and cognitive scores. The pandemic seems to affect primarily early child development.
Researchers do not know if the IQ declines are temporary and will return to normal after the pandemic is gone or whether this will be a long-term trend.
Babies are not the only ones evidently seeing a drop in IQ connected to COVID. Another recent study in the United Kingdom shows some individuals who have contracted the virus also have a drop in IQ.
(Video Credit: KPIX CBS SF Bay Area)
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