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Extreme climate disasters and other traumatic events has long-term consequences for youth: study

By Joey Chini

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    Calgary (CTV Network) — Experiencing natural disasters or other traumatic events may impact the education and food security of youth, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

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

The study, which was published in the journal Population Research and Policy Review, focused on teens who lived through “shocks,” which researchers say are traumatic events such as an earthquake, flooding, loss of a job, crop failure, divorce or the death of a loved one. They found an association between the number of “shocks” a person experiences early in life, and lower reading and vocabulary test scores 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’s critical for policies to help minimize the effects of these shocks,” Carolyn Reyes, senior research associate at Public Wise who led the study, said in a press release. “These types of initiatives could include unconditional cash transfers, expanding social protections, and more accessible and widely available insurance programs.”

According to the study, recent “shocks” were “most strongly associated with negative learning and well-being outcomes.” Researchers found that 15-year-olds who went through a “shock” in the last three or four years were generally worse off—scoring lower on tests, being less food secure and having poorer health on average.

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

“Household shocks experienced by kids can take an important toll on health and learning no matter where they live,” Randell said in a press release that accompanied the study. “For example, if teens have to help take care of siblings or assist their parents in earning income, this may divert resources and attention away from school. This in turn can affect the amount of time teens have to focus on schoolwork, or it may push them out of school altogether.”

Past research has established youth—particularly younger children—are often more vulnerable to “shocks” than others, according to the study, and it can stunt their physical and cognitive growth for years.

Kids from rural areas may have to deal with additional scenarios, such as being forced out of school to help bring in more income due to their family’s dying crops, according to the study.

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

“Peru is highly susceptible to environmental shocks such as earthquakes, floods and drought,” Reyes said. “In addition, a sizable segment of the population is under the age of 18. All of these factors amount to higher likelihoods of children being exposed to shocks across their young lives.”

The researchers said they wanted to build on existing data because most of the past studies on the subject focused on well-being data from one point in time and just one or two types of “shocks.” Reyes said their study looked at multiple kinds of “shocks” and measured well-being data in several ways over a 15-year span.

Reyes concluded there could be several explanations for their findings, and there are several factors that influence youth well-being.

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

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