As we determine the best course of treatment for a patient’s condition, we must weigh the pros against the cons and make a balanced decision. While a surgeon may be forced to choose cutting off a leg to save a life, there are usually other options to avoid unwanted adverse effects. With the pandemic beginning in 2020, our leaders determined that cutting off the activities and interactions of society was necessary to save our world from a virus. They seemed to see no other options available. Studies like the Japanese pediatric article and others described below suggest that there were a number of health effects which should have been considered in such decisions. Their results are not surprising, but are very concerning and deserve to be burnt into our collective memories should we be confronted again with such a possible crisis.
The article by Ito and others in the International Journal of environmental Research and Public Health evaluated a number of health factors in 40 Japanese children before and during the pandemic. They compared muscle strength, gait speed, body fat percentage, static/dynamic balance functions, sleep times, screen times, physical activity, and quality of life. With these children being in lock down like much of the world for a year or more, there were obvious opportunities for these children to experience health effects besides limiting their exposure to a virus.
The study found in this small number of children that the children exhibited lower levels of dynamic balance function, longer time on screens, short sleep times per day, and an increase in body fat percentage. The other measures did not show a statistically significant difference. Given that this was a relatively short period of time to have such an impact on the health of children aged 9-15 years old in this study, one should ask a few questions. What will be the longer-term impacts on these children as they grow into adulthood? Was this course of action appropriate? Should this public health approach be continued or repeated in the future?
Back to the paradigm of considering risks and benefits for an individual’s personal medical treatment. Pros must be weighed against cons. One would not risk taking a highly toxic drug for a case of food poisoning, but might do so for a life threatening cancer. In the much broader picture of society decisions regarding lockdowns in the face of a pandemic, we need better information and more transparency from our leaders. While many of the adverse effects of our pandemic response were predictable, at this point we have much more “data” and many more “studies” to understand the risk of the virus and the risks of the pandemic response measures which were undertaken. Our leaders owe us an explanation for past and future responses we are forced to follow.
Ongoing and future responses should consider this Japanese study and others listed below in the references before mandating other public health measures. Our leaders must be aware of these studies by their own efforts or by the efforts of a concerned public who does not want to see permanent negative health effects on their children. Helping others live healthier more abundant lives goes beyond the one-on-one interactions in a medical office and include the choices we make as a society in response to public health threats.
Tadashi Ito, Hideshi Sugiura, Yuji Ito, Sho Narahara, Koji Noritake, Daiki Takahashi, Kentaro Natsume, Nobuhiko Ochi. Physical Functions among Children before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Prospective Longitudinal Observational Study (Stage 1). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2022; 19 (18): 11513 DOI: 10.3390/ijerph191811513
Thanks to Science Daily:
Nagoya University. “Decrease in Japanese children’s ability to balance during movement related to COVID-19 activity restrictions.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 December 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/12/221206083126.htm>.
Other related references:
Brzęk, A., Strauss, M., Sanchis-Gomar, F., & Leischik, R. (2021). Physical Activity, Screen Time, Sedentary and Sleeping Habits of Polish Preschoolers during the COVID-19 Pandemic and WHO’s Recommendations: An Observational Cohort Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(21), 11173. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph182111173
Kovacs, V. A., Starc, G., Brandes, M., Kaj, M., Blagus, R., Leskošek, B., Suesse, T., Dinya, E., Guinhouya, B. C., Zito, V., Rocha, P. M., Gonzalez, B. P., Kontsevaya, A., Brzezinski, M., Bidiugan, R., Kiraly, A., Csányi, T., & Okely, A. D. (2022). Physical activity, screen time and the COVID-19 school closures in Europe – An observational study in 10 countries. European journal of sport science, 22(7), 1094–1103. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2021.1897166
Okely, A. D., Kariippanon, K. E., Guan, H., Taylor, E. K., Suesse, T., Cross, P. L., Chong, K. H., Suherman, A., Turab, A., Staiano, A. E., Ha, A. S., El Hamdouchi, A., Baig, A., Poh, B. K., Del Pozo-Cruz, B., Chan, C. H. S., Nyström, C. D., Koh, D., Webster, E. K., Lubree, H., … Draper, C. E. (2021). Global effect of COVID-19 pandemic on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep among 3- to 5-year-old children: a longitudinal study of 14 countries. BMC public health, 21(1), 940. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-10852-3
Meherali, S., Punjani, N., Louie-Poon, S., Abdul Rahim, K., Das, J. K., Salam, R. A., & Lassi, Z. S. (2021). Mental Health of Children and Adolescents Amidst COVID-19 and Past Pandemics: A Rapid Systematic Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(7), 3432. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18073432
Guo, Y. F., Liao, M. Q., Cai, W. L., Yu, X. X., Li, S. N., Ke, X. Y., Tan, S. X., Luo, Z. Y., Cui, Y. F., Wang, Q., Gao, X. P., Liu, J., Liu, Y. H., Zhu, S., & Zeng, F. F. (2021). Physical activity, screen exposure and sleep among students during the pandemic of COVID-19. Scientific reports, 11(1), 8529. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-88071-4
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.