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Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health
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Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health
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Blog Aletta's Talent Network: Economic crises and the health of children and adolescents

Datum:26 februari 2021
Lara Bister
Lara Bister

Lara Bister, PhD candidate at the Department of Demography, Faculty of Spatial Sciences (RUG); contact: l.bister  

We are currently at the beginning of one of the largest economic crises of our time, triggered by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown policies. Whilst mainly individuals of old age or with pre-existing health issues are at risk of COVID-related health consequences, we will most likely all be affected by the onset of the subsequent recession and its aftermath. This can have fatal consequences for our health as we have learned from previous economic crises. One group is particularly vulnerable, namely children and adolescents.

Why are children and adolescents especially at risk during economic crises? First of all, childhood and adolescence are considered vulnerable life course phases during which individuals are highly susceptible to external influences. An economic crisis is one such external and adverse event, which has the potential to negatively affect children’s and adolescents’ health development and their later-life health outcomes. Moreover, minors are in a particularly precarious situation during economic crises as they are exposed to its consequences, e.g., reduced family income or parental unemployment, on the one hand, but are not able to actively combat the situation on the other. Also, the subsequent family stress can lead to worsened parenting and distress transfer resulting in worse health outcomes of children and adolescents.

The child and adolescent health consequences of economic crises can vary. Especially in weak welfare contexts, decreased food security and worsened medical care were reasons for the worse physical health of minors. Mental health problems such as increased psychosocial functioning problems, increased depressive symptoms, and poorer health-related quality of life were also among the health consequences of children and adolescents during economic crises. Mostly, individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were affected worst.

In the first part of my PhD research on ‘Economic crises, health and mortality across Europe’, I study how economic crises are related with child and adolescent health. In my first paper, I am studying the association between childhood and adolescence exposure to economic crisis and health in young adulthood. In the second paper, I aim to investigate the mechanism behind this relationship and to look into the direct health effects during childhood and adolescence. I use the severe post-reunification economic crisis in East Germany in the early 1990s as a case study.

Identifying the mechanisms of economic crises influencing child and adolescent health is of great relevance for implementing targeted and effective policy measures, especially in current times. Research shows that the first negative health consequences for children and adolescents have already emerged since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is evidence of worsened mental and behavioural health as well as increased income-related health risks such as food insecurity and downgraded health care insurances in children and adolescents. The question remains to what extent this is attributable to the ongoing recession or to other implications of the pandemic, i.e., social distancing measures such as school closures. Yet, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child and adolescent health should not be underestimated. There is no time like the present to gain insight into the impact of economic crises on child and adolescent health and the mechanisms behind it, so that we can protect this vulnerable group from the short- and long-term consequences of economic crises in the future.