Global Study of Urban Poor Links Childhood Adversity to Adolescent Violence & Depression
Boys suffer even more than girls to adverse events as children including physical and emotional neglect, violence and sexual abuse which makes them more likely to be violent in return, a new study has suggested.
In poor urban areas around the world, exposure to adverse events as children—including physical and emotional neglect, violence, and sexual abuse—is strongly associated with both adolescent depression and violence perpetrated by young people, according to the study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“This is the first global study to investigate how a cluster of traumatic childhood experiences known as ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, work together to cause specific health issues in early adolescence with terrible, life-long consequences,” said Dr. Robert Blum, lead researcher for the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS) that is based in multiple countries across five continents.
“And while we found young girls often suffer significantly, contrary to common belief, boys reported even greater exposure to violence and neglect, which makes them more likely to be violent in return.” The study catalogued the ACEs suffered by 1,284 adolescents aged 10 to 14 in 14 “low-income urban settings” around the world. It found remarkably common experiences with trauma—and very similar impacts—regardless of where the children lived, which included Vietnam, China, Bolivia, Egypt, India, Kenya, UK and the United States.
The report is the first to include an assessment of how adversity impacts young children in multiple low- and middle-income countries, where the vast majority of the 1.8 billion 10- to 24-year-olds worldwide live—about a quarter of the global population.
Overall, the study found that 46% of young adolescents reported experiencing violence, 38% suffered emotional neglect and 29% experienced physical neglect. But boys stood out in several categories. They were more likely to report physical neglect, sexual abuse and violence victimization. Also, for both boys and girls, the more adversity they experienced, the more likely they were to engage in violent behaviors, such as bullying, threatening or hitting someone. But the effect of the adversity was more pronounced for boys than girls, with boys 11 times more likely to be engaged in violence, and girls four times more likely to be violent. Also, the study found that, in general, the cumulative effect of their traumas tended to produce higher levels of depressive symptoms among girls than boys, while boys tended to show more external aggression than girls.
The study is part of the Global Early Adolescent Study, a major collaboration of the World Health Organization and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to understand more about the development of gender stereotypes in early adolescence and their impact on adolescent health around the world.
And it buttresses a key conclusion from a major new report to be released next week at Women Deliver in Vancouver based on a global coalition of adolescent health experts: that the world will never achieve gender equality “by focusing on girls and women alone and excluding boys and men.” That report, from the Bellagio Working Group on Gender Equality, reflects the assessment of 22 experts from 15 countries. Their analysis, Achieving Gender Equality by 2030: Putting Adolescents at the Center, finds that boys have as equal a part to play as girls in achieving the fifth of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG5), which seeks to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” by 2030. The report notes that the current indicators for SDG5 ignore boys and men. But it warns that “we cannot achieve a gender equitable world by ignoring half of its occupants.”
Global Early Adolescent Study Over the past six years, an international consortium of 15 countries has been working on the Global Early Adolescent Study (GEAS). The GEAS aims to understand how gender norms are formed in early adolescence and how they predispose young people to subsequent sexual and other health risks.