Infants Born During a Pandemic Have Lower IQ

September 15, 2021

A brand new research shows that infants born during 2020 and 2021 have lower IQs than infants born pre-pandemic from 2011 to 2019.

New paper – entitled, “Impact of the covid-19 Pandemic on Early Child Cognitive Development: Initial Findings in a Longitudinal Observational Study of Child Health” – is a preprint, that is it has not yet been peer-reviewed. Because this process can be lengthy, authors use the MedRxiv service to make their manuscripts available as “preprints” before certification by peer review, allowing other scientists to see, discuss, and comment on the findings immediately.

Since the beginning of 2020, researchers from different countries have looked at the effect of covid pandemic on pregnancy and childhood development. A brand new study from a group of Rhode Island researchers shows that infants born during 2020 and 2021 have lower IQs than infants born from 2011 to 2019.

Results of new study entitled, “Impact of the covid-19 Pandemic on Early Child Cognitive Development: Initial Findings in a Longitudinal Observational Study of Child Health” reveal that the cognitive scores of children born during 2020 and 2021 were adversely affected by pandemic measures when compared to infants born from 2011 to 2019. In total, 672 infants participated in the study.

“Since the first reports of novel coronavirus in the 2020,” authors write, “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.”

“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.”

“These results provide compelling early evidence of the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, even in the absence of direct SARS-CoV-2 infection, on infant and early child neurodevelopment. … Comparing yearly mean scores since 2011, controlling for age, gender, demographic, and socioeconomic indicators, we find striking evidence of declining overall cognitive functioning in children beginning in 2020 and continuing through 2021.”

“While children, and those under age 5, have largely been spared from the severe health and mortality complications associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection, they have not been immune to the impact of the stay-at home, masking, and social distancing policies. These policies, meant to limit spread of the SARSCoV-2 virus, have closed daycares, schools, parks, and playgrounds, and have disrupted children’s educational opportunities, limited explorative play and interaction with other children, and reduced physical activity levels.”

“In this work, therefore, we specifically sought to explore individual and population-level trends in infant and early child neurodevelopment. Analyses of cognitive development, assessed using Mullen Scales of Early Learning, a population normed and clinically administered tool that assesses function across the five primary domains of fine and gross motor control, visual reception, and expressive and respective language via direct observation and performance, provides some of the first direct evidence of the developmental impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

Authors found that the mean IQ score for children born from 2011 to 2019 was between 98.5 and 107.3, and that in children born in 2020 and 2021, the scores were from 86.3 to 78.9 respectively. “Across all measures, we found cognitive scores were significantly reduced during the pandemic by 27 to 37 points. … We find a significant decrease in child cognitive scores in children born during the pandemic with males affected more than females, and higher maternal education being a protective factor.”

“The covid-19 pandemic”, they conclude, “has fundamentally altered the child health landscape, with pregnant mothers and individuals, and children living in a strikingly different economic, psychosocial, and educational environment than what was present just 18 months ago. …  In this work, we provide early evidence suggestive of significant reductions in attained cognitive function and performance in children born over the past 18 months during the pandemic.”

Full Study “Impact of the covid-19 Pandemic on Early Child Cognitive Development: Initial Findings in a Longitudinal Observational Study of Child Health”