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The Morning Dispatch: The Kids Aren't Alright
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The Morning Dispatch: The Kids Aren’t Alright

Researchers continue to learn more about how devastating the disruptions of the pandemic were to the development of America's children.

Happy Tuesday! We can’t help but think we jinxed Artemis I by writing about it in yesterday’s TMD. The launch attempt was scrubbed early Monday morning due to an engine issue, but NASA indicated the rocket and spacecraft remain in a “safe and stable” condition—and the launch could be rescheduled for Friday afternoon. Fingers crossed! 🤞🚀

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr urged calm Tuesday during a press conference in Najaf amid increased unrest and violence in Baghdad that followed al-Sadr’s announcement that he is leaving politics. Followers of the cleric stormed a government palace Monday and witnesses described heavy gunfire in the Iraqi capital, with security forces using tear gas to quell the riots. Iraq has closed its borders in response to the violence and flights to the country have been suspended. A spokesman for the United Nations called for peace: “The very survival of the state is at stake.”

  • Ukrainian officials said the country’s military launched a counteroffensive on Monday with the goal of recapturing territory in southern Ukraine that’s been held by Russian forces since the spring. Russian officials claimed the assault failed and Ukrainians suffered significant casualties, but Russian military bloggers noted that the Russian-occupied town of Nova Kakhovka was without water or power after sustained rocket fire and that Ukrainian forces had broken through Russian lines northeast of Kherson. Two anonymous Pentagon sources told Politico that Ukrainian forces have cut “most” Russian supply lines across the Dnipro River, adding that Ukraine has a “good chance” of retaking some of its territory.

  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced Monday that he and a team of IAEA inspectors will travel to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant this week to “help ensure nuclear safety and security” and “undertake vital safeguards activities.” Intense shelling around the plant in recent weeks has stoked fears of a radiation disaster, with Russian and Ukrainian forces blaming each other for the blasts.

  • Anthony Ornato, a Secret Service agent who also served as deputy chief of staff to Donald Trump, resigned his Secret Service position Monday, two days before he was set to provide testimony related to January 6 to the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General. The Intercept reports that the inspector general’s office has been trying without luck to schedule an interview with Ornato since late June. Ornato was one of the Secret Service agents reportedly willing to testify under oath to the January 6 Committee to offer testimony that would contradict some of the explosive testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. Although Ornato had appeared before the committee twice before Hutchinson’s testimony, he has not yet scheduled another appearance.

  • After two months of devastating monsoon rains—the heaviest in three decades—Pakistan is being rocked by flooding that has killed more than 1,100 people, damaged nearly 1 million homes, and sent approximately 500,000 people to relief camps. “What we saw recently in the last eight weeks is unrelenting cascades of torrential rain that no monsoon has ever brought with it ever before,” Climate Minister Sherry Rehman said. “We’re on the front line of a global crisis.”

  • Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Monday he will deploy the state’s Emergency Management Agency and National Guard to Jackson, as the city of approximately 180,000 people is without “reliable running water” due to the recent flooding of the Pearl River. “Do not drink the water,” Reeves told residents yesterday. “In too many cases, it is raw water from the reservoir being pushed through the pipes. Be smart, protect yourself, protect your family, preserve water, look out for your fellow man and look out for your neighbors.”

The Kids Aren’t Alright

A pile of laptops ready to be sent home with students for remote learning in August 2020. (Photo by Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe via Getty Images.)

As lockdowns swept the United States in the early months of the pandemic, doctors working with childhood diabetes patients started talking. Are you seeing more cases in your clinic, too? Are they sicker than usual? Is this a normal uptick, or is something else going on here?

“We were kind of thinking—we don’t know if this is real or not,” said Dr. Sheela Natesh Magge, director of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Division of Pediatric Endocrinology. So with colleagues at Johns Hopkins and other medical institutions, Magge collected data from 24 healthcare institutions and more than 3,000 children. The results were staggering.

As kids gear up for what we hope will be the first full school year without pandemic disruptions since 2018-2019, the effects of those disruptions on the nation’s youth are becoming increasingly clear. Whether the tradeoffs were worth it from an epidemiological perspective is a debate that will rage for decades—we encourage you to read Virginia Hume’s Dispatch piece on the matter—but researchers are finding with more and more regularity that children have suffered a number of setbacks in recent years having to do with their physical and mental health, social skills, and academic achievement.

Perhaps the most shocking such finding was published earlier this month in The Journal of Pediatrics, when Magge and her fellow researchers discovered a massive spike in Type 2 diabetes cases from pre-pandemic levels. The number of children and adolescents diagnosed with the condition in the United States typically grows by about 5 percent a year. But in the first year of the pandemic, according to Magge et al., there was a 77 percent spike in Type 2 diabetes diagnoses over the previous two years’ average. Racial and ethnic minorities already develop the condition at a higher rate, but black and Hispanic children represented a disproportionate percentage of the growth. And more children than usual were diagnosed in hospitals, suggesting their symptoms were more severe.

“It supported what we were seeing,” Magge told The Dispatch. “But it was even more than I guess I had anticipated. And we don’t know whether this is going to continue.”

The study doesn’t pin down a reason for the increase, but the paper’s authors have some hypotheses. Though this study doesn’t establish any link between COVID-19 infections and diabetes, there is preliminary research that suggests contracting the virus heightens the risk of developing diabetes. But the pandemic brought with it many already well-known risk factors. Eating less healthy food—due to stress, financial hardship, and missing healthier school lunches—likely contributed to some kids’ weight gain. So did a sudden decrease in activity, with children cooped up at home to avoid COVID-19 instead of walking school hallways and playing sports. Poor sleep, depression, and anxiety—all of which spiked among children during the pandemic—can also exacerbate the risk of diabetes.

Even before the pandemic, about 20 percent of American children and adolescents were considered obese, increasing their risk of diabetes. “I’m guessing that these were kids that were at risk, but something pushed them over the edge during the pandemic,” Magge said.

Pandemic lockdowns—and remote education in particular—affected much more than diabetes, of course. Rates of childhood lead screenings have dropped since the outset of the pandemic, as have the number of vision tests, dental checkups, and vaccinations conducted. Some of that may be hesitation to risk infection at doctors’ offices, but school shutdowns also played a role, since many schools offer health services they couldn’t provide remotely. Academics also took a hit—a July analysis of about 8 million students found some academic recovery from pandemic gaps, but still showed a 5- to 10-percentage-point drop in math achievement rates compared to pre-pandemic levels. Black, Hispanic, and low-income students saw the biggest losses.

It’s harder to neatly quantify the emotional and developmental impact, but kids returning to school haven’t all recovered. “I was thinking that once kids come back to school things would begin to go back to normal, and they haven’t,” says Dr. Dorothy Stubbe, a child and adolescent psychiatry specialist at the Yale Child Study Center. “Just as there’s a long-COVID physically, there will be a long-term mental health [effect].” 

A series of studies of children in the United Kingdom published in April found toddlers and preschoolers struggling more with sharing and taking turns and suffering speech delays—though researchers also found teachers had effectively narrowed some developmental gaps since previous COVID impact studies. Older kids are also struggling with emotional regulation, interpersonal skills, and problem solving, Stubbe said, adding that cyberbullying that deepened during lockdown seems to have become entrenched as kids returned to school. She emphasized the importance of family support and targeted help from teachers to help with recovery.

“Just having a caring adult that is interested in a child’s life and wants to know what’s going on with them emotionally as well as day-to-day can be really helpful for kids finding resilience,” Stubbe said. “There’s a real opportunity for healing.”

Worth Your Time

  • Jack Butler, Jonah’s former research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute, has some good advice for Catholics—and everyone: Log off. “Technology has made our lives better. But it has not altered human nature. In fact, it has exacerbated some of human nature’s worst tendencies, including the desire to sin,” he writes for RealClearReligion. “If there is one sin most endemic to Twitter, it is wrath—wrath produced in ourselves by learning of things that anger yet don’t really affect us; wrath spewed forth from ourselves toward some chosen foe; wrath at our own wrath. In this, it is deeply unhealthy, and un-Christian. Yet there are some voices, even Catholic ones, who profit from the wrath economy. These jackals have discovered that the platform rewards their anger, that pettiness there beats piety, and that exhibitionism on it beats out restraint. They have earned great followings. Worse yet, many Catholics, especially similarly overly online younger ones, have come to admire and even to imitate such voices, seeing in their performative outrage evidence that they are responsive to the supposed demands of this moment. But so many of our era’s maladies arise from precisely this kind of behavior. Thus, good Catholics are led away not only from the civic virtues that our republic requires, but also from what Catholicism itself teaches.”

  • Jason Furman—a top economist in the Obama administration—has been one of the harshest Democratic critics of President Biden’s plan to cancel student loans. Why? “There isn’t free money out there. There are consequences. Once you frame it as 320 million people paying for a benefit for 30 million people, it makes you think a lot harder,” he told Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic. “With any public policy, you need to analyze the trade-offs. You can’t just say, ‘This person gets this, and therefore it’s good.’ It’s always better for someone to get something rather than nothing. But that’s not how it works. If you’re giving $500 billion to one group, where’s that money coming from? One possibility is that the economy grows much more quickly, and so spending that money doesn’t hurt anyone. I think that’s extremely unlikely, given the highly constrained state we are in. And so I think most of that $500 billion that one group is getting is coming at the expense of everyone else. That doesn’t make it a bad idea. If we were covering a Medicaid-coverage gap, I’d say, ‘You know what? If everyone has to pay $50 more and poor people get health insurance and the inflation rate is a tenth of a percentage point higher, I’m all for that.’ But we’re giving couples making up to $250,000, which is a lot of money, up to $40,000.”

  • Support for Ukraine has begun to exhaust U.S. ammunition stockpiles, and Pentagon officials are starting to grow concerned. “The U.S. has during the past six months supplied Ukraine with 16 U.S. rocket launchers, known as Himars, thousands of guns, drones, missiles and other equipment. Much of that, including ammunition, has come directly from U.S. inventory, depleting stockpiles intended for unexpected threats,” Gordon Lubold, Nancy Youssef, and Ben Kesling report for the Wall Street Journal. “The looming ammunition shortage isn’t for lack of funds, according to those familiar with the issue. The U.S. announced this week that it was setting aside nearly $3 billion for long-term aid intended to help Ukraine, bringing the total spent on weaponry for the country to $14 billion, and the Biden administration’s Pentagon budget request for next year is $773 billion. ‘This was knowable. It was foreseeable. It was forewarned, including from industry leaders to the Pentagon. And it was easily fixable,’ said Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington. What is needed, she said, is for the government to spend money to fix the problem. ‘There are some problems you can buy your way out of,’ she said. ‘This is one of them.’”

Something Positive

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Toeing the Company Line

  • On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah are joined by University of Chicago law professor Will Baude for a discussion of Baude’s review of Common Good Constitutionalism, a new book by Adrian Vermeule. Can David and Will convince Sarah “common good constitutionalism” is a real thing? Is it a framework the conservative legal movement should adopt? And does anyone have standing to challenge the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plans?

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live is back! Tune in at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT for a conversation between David and Manhattan Institute economist Brian Riedl about the Biden administration’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 of student loan debt for borrowers currently earning less than $125,000. Brian wrote about it for us last week. Do you agree with him? Disagree? Want to know more? If you have any questions you want them to address, be sure to drop them in the comments here!

  • On the site today, Jordan Fischetti writes about steps the U.S. could take to reform its asylum system, Bradley Bowman and Sinan Ciddi discuss Turkey’s ongoing slide into Russia’s strategic orbit, and Jacob Becker looks at John Eastman’s attempt to help Donald Trump overturn the 2020 election through a unique historical prism: the election of 1876.

Let Us Know

If you could travel back to March 2020 with the benefit of hindsight and give yourself one piece of advice for riding out the pandemic, what would it be and why?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.