Corona worse impact on poor children’s health

Children from families at risk of poverty are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases. They are more often overweight, have an increased risk of accidents, also suffer more often from psychosomatic symptoms. They feel less fit, which also puts them at a disadvantage in other areas of life, such as school. Corona has stronger negative effects for them.

Every fifth child in Austria is at risk of poverty and exclusion. Living in poverty damages the physical and mental health of children and adolescents and also has a negative impact on the perception of health.

Applications explode

Since 2019, Volkshilfe Austria has already been supporting families affected by poverty with the donation-financed fund "Kinder.Health.Secure" in health-related expenses. For example, for deductibles for glasses, therapy costs, costs for dental treatment, but also for costs, in the area of prevention. More than 500 children have been helped since the project was launched.

In the first quarter of 2021, almost three times as many applications were submitted to Volkshilfe as in the same period of the previous year.

This means that more than 800 families could apply for support from Volkshilfe by 2021 if the trend is not broken. Despite the need, these families could not be supported with the current donation funds.

The reasons for the requests also point to the problems in the health care system, because even though the care network in Austria is good, gaps are showing up for families. 40 percent of the services already supported by Volkshilfe this year fall into the area of therapies. This includes occupational and physical therapies and speech therapy, as well as interventions to help children recover and strengthen their mental health.

Requests from families affected by poverty have tripled.

A family from Vienna, for example, tells how difficult it is to get psychotherapeutic help for their son. The processing time for the approval of the health insurance is long, the search for a suitable therapist is difficult. Especially in Corona times, as the mother tells us. The son's social phobia was massively intensified by the Corona crisis. The bills of the therapist who treats him for this mean a massive burden before the health insurance company agrees to cover the costs. The orders of the self-employed father, who was previously the family's main earner, decreased due to Corona: "There is more stress because the debts increase. It is very difficult to find the necessary costs."

According to experts, Austria lacks 80.000 therapy places for children and young people. Cost of tooth-. Jaw treatments (20 percent). One applicant writes: "My husband became unemployed as a result of Covid19. A disaster for my family. Fixed costs remain the same. I paid the installment for braces today, and the month is still long." Other requests are for hospital expenses, medicines, remedies and medical devices.

Corona crisis and child health

However, this increase in therapy costs is not only related to the precarious situation of the parents, as the example of the boy shows. The Corona crisis places an enormous burden on all children and adolescents and limits their social practice, further exacerbating the link between poverty and health.

Thanks to the research of numerous scientists, psychosocial challenges in particular are also being addressed by the media in the course of distance learning. But Corona also had a negative impact on physical health for many children and adolescents. Stresses are unevenly distributed.

Poverty-stricken children suffer particularly from the shift to distance learning or the lack of certain social work services in and out of school.

A survey of 100 poverty-stricken families conducted by Volkshilfe Austria in spring 2021 shows that 6 out of 10 children are lonelier than before the Corona crisis, according to their parents. More than half of mothers. Fathers now rate their children more sadly. If one compares these figures with a recent study by the University of Salzburg, it becomes clear that the Corona crisis hits poverty-stricken children harder: while in the general survey by the University of Salzburg 2 out of 10 children are sadder and lonelier, the proportion in the poverty-stricken segment is 3 times higher.

Eating disorders in Corona times

Numerous studies today demonstrate the impact of the Covid 19 crisis on eating habits, weight changes and, by extension, eating disorders in adults, adolescents and children. In the area of food security, those children who rely on low-cost regular meals at school or kindergarten suffer most.

Children whose parents are less able to support them suffer the most from Distance Learning.

In the study, 23 percent of adolescents in Austria between the ages of 11 and 18 showed suspected cases for div. Eating disorders, proven eating disorders in further interviews could finally be detected in about six percent. Paul Plener, head of child and adolescent psychiatry at Vienna General Hospital, warned in January 2021 that more and more children and adolescents had begun to reduce their weight as a result of the Corona Crisis. Plener attributes the increase in bulimic patients to, among other things, school closures, social withdrawal and the loss of positive experiences in everyday life. An online survey by the University of Munich of formerly hospitalized patients with bulimia over the age of 13 showed that 49 percent of patients described a worsening of their illness as a result of the Corona crisis. 62 percent of this group said their quality of life had been greatly reduced.

But studies also point to a negative trend in weight gains during the Corona crisis. Due to hoarding and fear of food shortages, many families' pantries were much more stocked with pasta, rice and convenience foods during the first lockdown, he said. For many children, eating has also become a coping strategy to deal with the Corona stress. In addition, eating habits have changed, movement impulses have been reduced, and the sleep-wake rhythm has been disturbed. Berthold Koletzko, specialist in pediatrics and adolescent medicine and head of the Department of Metabolism and Nutrition at the Vienna General Hospital, emphasizes that the social background of families also plays a significant role in this context. von Hauner's Children's Hospital in Munich, Germany. A study he co-commissioned shows that children from families with highly educated parents are less affected, whereas 23 percent of children from parents with a secondary school diploma experienced weight gain in their first lockdown.

Mental health

A study conducted by Danube University in Krems, Austria, over 3.The survey, which polled thousands of students ages 14 and older, took a closer look at the alarming effects of school closures. It showed that about 16 percent of them had suicidal thoughts either every day or on more than half of the days.

55 percent of respondents reported depressive symptoms, 47 percent reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder, 23 percent reported insomnia, and symptoms of eating disorders were exhibited by 64 percent of respondents.

While the socioeconomic status of the youth was not surveyed here, a comparable German survey shows that children with low socioeconomic status, as well as children with a migrant background and those with limited housing, are more affected. Lack of space to retreat, financial insecurity in the family, and limited opportunities for outdoor exercise, for example, play an important role here. Because a 2017 EU-SILC special survey on health in Austria shows, for example, that 9 percent of households cannot afford outdoor sports and leisure equipment. Among the group of minimum income recipients, 17 percent could not afford to play a game-. Provide outdoor recreational equipment such as bicycles or scooters. In view of the current social crisis, with record unemployment, this number is likely to get worse. A circumstance that particularly restricts children and adolescents in times of lockdown. They are also more affected by the closure of low-cost recreational facilities. Open youth work facilities affected.

In which society do we want to live?

In the current situation, children and adolescents affected by poverty are more dependent on public infrastructure and support because their parents cannot compensate for a lack of resources in the health or education system from their own expenses. In order to provide all children in Austria with the same opportunities to live in the best possible psychological and physical well-being, financial security for families is needed; with regard to the current Corona-related mass unemployment, for example, an increase in unemployment benefits or the introduction of a minimum wage of 1750 euros. In the long term, there is a need for independent financial protection for all children through a basic child benefit system that compensates for existing disadvantages in the dimensions of material provision, education and social welfare, as well as those disadvantages that children and adolescents affected by poverty experience in the area of health.

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