Dr. Oz popped up on Dec 31st to claim that there is a new study that confirms that kids born during the pandemic are developmentally delayed.
He is not speaking as a Doctor, his stance is purely political. As a Republican candidate for 2022, he is pandering to a specific demographic
Because he is a well-known name, you might be tempted to think that what he says is science-based.
It’s not, what he is claiming is deeply flawed.
Here is a tweet of him making the claim on Fox News…
Here is a brief transcription of what he said …
…issues like closing schools, which was not following the science in my opinion, and I voiced it on this program two years ago … published an article from Brown showing that kids born during the pandemic are developmentally delayed. Think about that. We’re hurting our children with some of these policies. Kids who can’t see the mouths of their teachers move don’t learn to speak … 5% of kids wear glasses, they fog up, they can’t read. These are the penalties we pay because of these destructive authoritarian restrictions …
Let’s proceed to pull that apart.
The scientific evidence is that closing schools is vital to controlling the pandemic. Anybody claiming that doing this “is not following the science” is wrong. But hey, this is Dr. Oz, being wrong has been his modus operandi for quite some time when it is to his personal advantage.
The study he references says nothing about masks, it does not support the implicit claim that “Kids who can’t see the mouths of their teachers move don’t learn to speak“. There is no scientific study that supports this, nor will there ever be. Kids generally don’t go to school to learn to speak, that happens at home before school attendance starts.
The kids considered in the study are rather obviously too young to be attending school. Mask mandates for kids or school closures don’t directly impact kids who are aged under 2. Lockdowns and mask-wearing commenced in March 2020, less than 2 years ago.
But wait, the study pre-print was published last August, so the gap is from March 2020 to Aug 2021 – 15 months is the absolute upper limit here for these kids. In fact, check the paper and you discover they were only looking at babies under 1 year old.
The study he cites says exactly nothing about kids wearing glasses.
As for the glasses fogging up, there really are plenty of solutions in use. That includes anti-fog wipes and masks that don’t cause glasses to fog up.
Dr Oz is not a reliable source for anything
Yes, he is a qualified Dr.
What is also well-known is that he has a long well-established track record for the promotion of pseudoscience and nonsense. Over the years he has faced a great deal of criticism for this from many other doctors who are deeply alarmed by the bad advice he dispenses.
The website Science-Based Medicine goes even further, noting: “No other show on television can top The Dr. Oz Show for the sheer magnitude of bad health advice it consistently offers, all while giving everything a veneer of credibility.
Read it all and weep. The man has done a great deal of real harm simply to enrich himself. His latest edict is simply more of the same.
You really can’t trust anything he says. If he claimed the sky was blue, then you would be well advised to exercise doubt.
The generic observation that Oz is a quack, huckster, scammer, and snake-oil salesman, perhaps makes him the ideal GOP candidate for senate these days, he fits right in.
The Cited Brown University Study
The study he cites has not been peer-reviewed, it is simply a preprint and is titled “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Early Child Cognitive Development: Initial Findings in a Longitudinal Observational Study of Child Health“.
Citing something not yet peer-reviewed is really not advised.
The hint is right there in the title of the paper “Initial Findings”.
The study presents these “initial” findings …
We find that children born during the pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic. Moreover, we find that males and children in lower socioeconomic families have been most affected. Results highlight that even in the absence of direct SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 illness, the environmental changes associated COVID-19 pandemic is significantly and negatively affecting infant and child development.
This is focused on very early neurodevelopment. Kids can and do catch up. Remember, we are only looking at kids less than 2 years old here.
They do note that kids born doing 2019 are doing just fine, it is only kids born during the pandemic they detected this concern with. They speculate that it may be due to the emotional impact of the pandemic upon the parents that is the root cause, they are interacting less with the kids during a key developmental stage.
It really is way too early to tell yet.
One key point is this. The lead researcher, Deoni, has explicitly expressed a fear that people like Oz would abuse the research …
Deoni said that he fears people will use the results to say that lockdown measures were not — and are not — needed, and said the focus should be on increasing vaccinations — and awareness of the need for social interaction for infants starting at the family level.
“This is me speaking for myself, and not on behalf of the researchers, but to me, lockdowns, and working from home, while painful was absolutely necessary,” said Deoni. “That was the correct thing. My fear is that this [study] will be used as a counterpoint. That’s not solving the problem. Solving the problem is wearing a mask, and curbing unnecessary things — such as hopping on a plane [for vacation] — and getting vaccinated. Let’s solve the problem. We have the tools. If we care about kids. we can do it. There are counties around the world that are desperate to have tools we have at our disposal.”
“We’re all stressed and busy, but step away from the screen, read, play with your kids — anything like that will have tremendous help,” said Deoni. “Let’s encourage our neighbors who are weary about vaccines to get informed and vaccinated. Hopefully we can get through this.”
An early developmental impact is not a lifetime deal breaker. Such studies are not done with a political motivation, but instead to reveal factors that are critical to helping ensure affected children rebound as the pandemic winds down.
Remember when they switched from placing babies on their stomachs to their backs. That delayed development, but it was done for a very good reason – the reduction of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. As for the developmental impact, they caught up later.
This is not the only example
There was a paper published in Oct 2021 titled “Association Between the COVID-19 Pandemic and Infant Neurodevelopment: A Comparison Before and During COVID-19“. That paper was peer-reviewed and did also make a similar claim regarding a pandemic-related developmental impact.
One small problem, that paper, which is used to argue against lockdowns, is seriously flawed.
Tyler Black MD pulls it apart and explains via a series of tweets exactly why it is a deeply flawed and misleading paper.
Briefly, it compared 2020 data with 2015-19 data and found the impact. The problem, as pointed out by Tyler, is that they cherry-picked the data. If you also compare the 2016 data with 2015,2017-20 data you get the same dropoff. Rather obviously there was no pandemic in 2016, yet there was in 2020, so in that instance, the 2020 babies did a lot better.
You can play games like this with data and completely fool yourself.
The point is this. Publication of a paper in a peer-reviewed journal is not the end-game, but instead is the beginning of a conversation between subject matter experts. As can happen in science, somebody might pop up to explain, “Nope, sorry, you screwed up, here is exactly why”, and so this is what has happened to this other paper.
I’m not suggesting that this is the case with the Brown University pre-print, but instead that you need to be aware of the full conversation around such papers. Remember, the Brown University lead author explicitly advised that you can’t use it to argue against masks or vaccines.
Is there a Pandemic related developmental Impact?
Unlike the other paper, the Brown University preprint does more robustly suggest an early impact.
Right now it really is too early to confirm, it is just a preprint and an initial finding.
Rather obviously lockdowns and stay-at-home orders are done to keep people safe and alive. They are there to stop the spread – in effect act as a firebreak. Rather obviously there is also an economic impact and also a mental health impact. This potentially ripples into the lives of kids.
The argument by some coming at this with a purely political agenda, and are not subject matter experts, is that we should not be doing lockdowns or having mask mandates because of such impacts.
The best we can do is to lean upon guidance from Epidemiologists and use that to make the best possible choice that leads us to the greatest well-being possible.
If given a voice, I suspect the 824,000 dead people might argue that we did not do enough.
Listening to voices such as Dr. Oz, who has a well-established track record of doing a great deal of harm simply to enrich himself, is a road to disaster. Oprah, who perhaps knows him best, has refused to endorse his current political campaign.
I do have to admit that he is right about a few things.
None of the kids born during the pandemic can read. They also don’t know how to drive, and they can’t even do complex math.
Well heck, many of them can’t even use the toilet on their own.
(I do seriously hope you get that this last bit is a joke. It perhaps says a great deal that I feel obliged to point that out)
One Last Thought
When you get COVID, you trust doctors to treat you. Would it not have been better to trust them to prevent you from getting COVID in the first place by listening to their guidance on how to prevent it?