In the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated socioeconomic and racial health disparities. For example, U.S.-based studies have found that the mortality rates for Black, Hispanic, Latino, and Indigenous communities from COVID-19 are double that of their White counterparts. Additionally, the pandemic is believed to have also exacerbated educational inequities for children as poorly funded school districts could not adapt and transition to remote learning as promptly as higher funded school districts.
In research recently published in the Journal of Urban Health, doctoral student Nadav Sprague and colleagues examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health behavior outcomes among St. Louis Public Schools District (SLPS) students. The study findings suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic may be a threat multiplier for childhood health disparities. Briefly, a threat multiplier is an extreme event of change (in this study, the COVID-19 pandemic) that aggravates stress factors in specific clusters of a population with high pre-existing stress factors. In this study, Black children and children from single-adult households were more likely to see increases in stress factors than their counterparts.
Sprague and colleagues collected data from parents picking up free lunches and learning material for their children from 27 October to 10 December 2020. The 29-item questionnaire was adapted from the National Institute of Health’s Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Cohort (ECHO) COVID-19 Questionnaire. The questionnaire included questions on demographics and how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the child (such as whether the child had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and how the pandemic altered the child’s health behaviors). Sprague and colleagues used K-means cluster analyses to identify distinct health behavior cluster profiles. The authors identified two distinct cluster profiles: a High Impact profile (n = 49) and a Moderate Impact profile (n = 73). Children in the High Impact cluster had a greater risk of being diagnosed with COVID-19, developed worsened eating habits, spent less time sleeping, and spent less time outdoors than those in the Moderate Impact cluster. The High Impact cluster was more likely to include Black children and children from single-adult households than the Moderate Impact cluster. The findings from this study provide valuable information that can inform interventions to help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and help reduce the burdens of future threat multipliers (such as climate change).