Gender differences in psychosocial status of adolescents during COVID-19: a six-country cross-sectional survey in Asia Pacific

Background: A six-country cross-sectional survey in Asia Pacific Evidence Brief by Johns Hopkins and World Vision Asia.

School closures and family economic instability caused by the COVID-19 lockdown measures have threatened the mental health and academic progress of adolescents. Through secondary data analysis of World Vision Asia Pacific Region’s COVID-19 response-assessments in May–June 2020, this study examined whether adolescents’ study, physical, and leisure activities, psychosocial status, and sources of COVID-19 information differed by gender.

Methods: The assessments used cross-sectional surveys of adolescents in poor communities served by World Vision (n = 5552 males and n = 6680 females) aged 10–18 years old in six countries.

The study households of adolescents were selected either by random sampling or non-probability convenience sampling and assessed using telephone or in-person interviews. Multivariate logistic regression analyses examined the relationship between gender and psychosocial status; daily activities (e.g., play, study); and sources of information about COVID-19.

Conclusion: During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, adolescents in the Asia Pacific region are considered at a high risk in terms of receiving education and facing gender inequity.

It is important to understand their current situation to support policy makers and associated organizations come up with response and recovery actions to mitigate the negative impacts caused by the restrictions.

Our findings revealed that surveyed adolescents in six countries in the Asia Pacific region were experiencing a severe disruption of education and lack of access to distance learning. During the first year of the pandemic, the physical and psychosocial status of female youth were more negatively affected than male peers. Considering the possibilities of posttraumatic symptoms, longitudinal research is needed to understand the long-term impact of COVID-19 on psycho-social status among adolescents in the region.

In addition, future research could investigate support to parents on parenting, home-schooling, and mental health that would bolster parents’ well-being so as to ultimately mitigate adolescents’ psychological distress. Alongside, public health services need to be prepared for long-term mental health supports, particularly for female adolescents. Also, public health services should extend social support to community and family levels, and integrate mass media in information dissemination

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