Importance School closures as part of broader social lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic may be associated with the health and well-being of children and adolescents.
Objective To review published reports on the association of school closures during broader social lockdown with mental health, health behaviors, and well-being in children and adolescents aged 0 to 19 years, excluding associations with transmission of infection.
Evidence Review Eleven databases were searched from inception to September 2020, and machine learning was applied for screening articles. A total of 16 817 records were screened, 151 were reviewed in full text, and 36 studies were included. Quality assessment was tailored to study type. A narrative synthesis of results was undertaken because data did not allow meta-analysis.
Findings A total of 36 studies from 11 countries were identified, involving a total of 79 781 children and adolescents and 18 028 parents, which occurred during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic (February to July 2020). All evaluated school closure as part of broader social lockdown during the first COVID-19 wave, and the duration of school closure ranged from 1 week to 3 months. Of those, 9 (25%) were longitudinal pre-post studies, 5 (14%) were cohort, 21 (58%) were cross-sectional, and 1 (3%) was a modeling study. Thirteen studies (36%) were high quality, 17 (47%) were medium quality, and 6 (17%) were low quality. Twenty-three studies (64%) were published, 8 (22%) were online reports, and 5 (14%) were preprints. Twenty-five studies (69%) concerning mental health identified associations across emotional, behavioral, and restlessness/inattention problems; 18% to 60% of children and adolescents scored above risk thresholds for distress, particularly anxiety and depressive symptoms, and 2 studies reported no significant association with suicide. Three studies reported that child protection referrals were lower than expected number of referrals originating in schools. Three studies suggested higher screen time usage, 2 studies reported greater social media use, and 6 studies reported lower physical activity. Studies on sleep (10 studies) and diet (5 studies) provided inconclusive evidence on harms.
Conclusions and Relevance In this narrative synthesis of reports from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, studies of short-term school closures as part of social lockdown measures reported adverse mental health symptoms and health behaviors among children and adolescents. Associations between school closure and health outcomes and behaviors could not be separated from broader lockdown measures.