The stress of living through the pandemic physically changed adolescents’ brains and prematurely aged them by at least three or four years, according to a Stanford University study.

Why it matters: While the behavioral effects of the pandemic are well-documented, data on youths’ neurological development has been scarce.

What they found: In a comparison of 163 teenage MRI scans, half of which were taken before the pandemic and half after, the “after” group displayed accelerated signs of aging commonly seen in children experiencing violence and neglect.

  • A 16-year-old girl’s brain might be the equivalent of a 19 or 20-year-old’s before COVID, with an enlarged hippocampus — deemed the center of memory and learning — and amygdala, which processes emotions.
  • The youths studied were also more likely to report severe anxiety, depression, and internalizing mental health problems.

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