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EIF report

Growing up in the Covid-19 pandemic: An evidence review of the impact of pandemic life on physical development in the early years

This report is a brief review of emerging international and UK evidence on seven key factors associated with children’s early physical health and development, and the extent to which the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic (such as lockdowns and social distancing) have impacted on these factors and affected children’s early physical development, including children from low-income and UK ethnic minority families.

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Although children are less likely than adults to be severely affected by Covid-19 infection, they have been adversely impacted by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as stay-at-home orders and the closure of services, across a range of physical development areas.

The early years (0–5 years) are recognised as a crucial time for children’s development, impacting on their short- and long-term health and wellbeing. The indirect impacts of Covid-19 on young children have been extensive and multifaceted, and the impact on their development is not fully understood.

This report is a rapid review of emerging international and UK evidence, on the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s early physical development. The review also considers the impact of the pandemic on the early physical development of vulnerable children, namely children from low-income families and those from UK minority ethnic families, who even before the pandemic were disproportionately at risk of poor physical development outcomes.

This review focuses on seven factors influencing children’s physical development in the early years in relation to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • physical activity
  • food security
  • diet and micronutrient deficiencies
  • breastfeeding
  • oral health
  • vaccinations
  • sleep.

Although relatively little evidence specifically examined the consequences of the pandemic on children aged 0–5 years in the UK, with much of it focused on older children, and many studies conducted outside of the UK, this review suggests there have been substantial changes to children’s lifestyle and behaviour as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Evidence is urgently needed to understand both the short- and long-term impact of the pandemic on early physical development in the UK, particularly for vulnerable groups.

About the authors

Max Stanford

Max is head of early childhood education & care at EIF.

Dr Pippa Davie

Pippa is a research officer at EIF.

Dr James Mulcahy

James is a research officer at EIF.

Key topics