Extreme weather disasters and other traumatic events have long-term consequences for young people: study

Experiencing natural disasters or other traumatic events can affect the education and food security of young people, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University analyzed data from the Young Lives Longitudinal Survey of 1,713 Peruvian children older than 15 years. The survey data included reading, math and vocabulary test scores, information about their food safety and health, and how much time they spent studying and doing chores.

The study, which was published in the journal Population research and policy review, focused on teens who experienced “shocks,” which researchers say are traumatic events such as an earthquake, flood, job loss, crop failure, divorce, or death of a loved one. They found an association between the number of “shocks” a person experiences early in life and lower scores on reading and vocabulary tests over time, as well as food insecurity.

“As climate change leads to more frequent and severe weather events, and economic crises and an ongoing pandemic continue to create challenges for families, it is critical that policies help minimize the effects of these impacts,” Carolyn Reyes, Principal Research Associate at Public Wise. who led the study said in a press release. “These kinds of initiatives could include unconditional cash transfers, the expansion of social protections, and more accessible and widely available insurance programs.”

According to the study, recent “shocks” were “more strongly associated with negative learning and well-being outcomes.” The researchers found that 15-year-olds who went through “shock” in the past three to four years generally fared worse: they scored lower on tests, were less food secure, and had poorer health on average.

Heather Randell, an assistant professor of rural sociology and demography at Penn State, said that while the study looked at data from Peru, its findings can be applied to people around the world.

“Domestic shocks experienced by children can have a significant impact on health and learning, no matter where they live,” Randell said in a news release accompanying the study. “For example, if teens have to help care for their siblings or help their parents earn an income, this can divert resources and attention away from school. This, in turn, can affect the amount of time teens teenagers have to focus on school work, or it can take them out of school altogether.

Previous research has established that young people, particularly younger children, are often more vulnerable to “shocks” than others, according to the study, and can stunt their physical and cognitive growth for years.

Children in rural areas may have to deal with additional scenarios, such as being forced to drop out of school to help earn more income due to the death of their family’s crops, according to the study.

Peru was the ideal choice for the study “because of its high levels of poverty and inequality” and its large number of farmers, according to Reyes.

“Peru is highly susceptible to environmental impacts such as earthquakes, floods and droughts,” Reyes said. “In addition, a sizeable segment of the population is under the age of 18. All of these factors increase the likelihood that children will be exposed to impacts throughout their young lives.”

The researchers said they wanted to take advantage of existing data because most previous studies on the topic focused on well-being data from one point in time and only one or two types of “shocks.” Reyes said his study looked at various types of “shocks” and measured well-being data in various ways over a 15-year period.

Reyes concluded that there could be several explanations for his findings, and that there are several factors that influence the well-being of young people.

“Because education and early work experiences are so important to future economic and social success, exposure to shocks could create circumstances that result in a lifetime of hardship,” he said. “Further research could explore the exact mechanisms of how these impacts affect education and well-being, which could then help in the design of targeted and effective interventions.”

Leave a Comment