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New DHEC report shows health decline in students during pandemic

The decrease in health further highlighted disparity for Black and Hispanic students.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — According to a DHEC report released on Tuesday, kids are not as healthy as they were before the pandemic. The data also highlights disproportionate effects on minority students.

“Parents need to encourage their students to get 60 minutes of physical activity a day,” Lisa Curtis, the Health and Physical Education Coordinator at Richland One Schools said. “Schools help take part of that but then we need parents to work with their children.”

Breonna Mealing works with DHEC and collected and analyzed data on children’s health from before the pandemic and compared it to where they are now.  She said before the pandemic schools were the main source of physical activity for students.

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“We know that schools are hubs for students to have a safe and affordable place to be physically active,” Mealing said.

The changes that came with the pandemic impacted how active students were able to be.

“There was social distancing we had limitations to the opportunities students had,” Mealing said.

Students in the healthy weight category dropped six percent, from 65% to 59%.

“During that period of time, during the COVID years, there was steady decline in the heart and lung health and healthy weight status,” Mealing said.

The study also highlighted the disparity between White students and Black and Hispanic students.

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“This is something that is not new or necessarily just driven by COVID-19, this is something we see in the data altogether,” Mealing said.

To help fill those gaps, DHEC suggested a simple solution using community spaces like an open field or a playground. Mealing also encourages parents, PE teachers and community leaders to increase opportunities for physical activity for students.

On our website, we have our one pagers that highlight things that families can do, communities can and schools can do,” she said.

DHEC said this study is based on data collected during an assessment in physical education classes for grades 2, 5, and 8.

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