COVID-19 Risk Communication Targeting Younger Adults May Have Biggest Impact


The study authors suggest that the biggest boost in risk reduction would stem from communication efforts aimed at raising awareness of COVID-19 risks among US adults under 40 years of age.

A recent study of US adults found that the older population is more concerned about COVID-19 and are eager to take more steps to reduce your risk from COVID-19, according to researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State). The study authors suggest that the biggest boost in risk reduction would stem from communication efforts aimed at raising awareness of COVID-19 risks among US adults under 40 years of age.

“Our study reinforces the idea that different generations perceive the risks associated with COVID-19 very differently,” said study author Yang Cheng, an assistant professor of communication at NC State, in a press release. “It also highlights the need to do more to communicate the need for preventive measures to younger generations.”

The research team conducted a survey of 1843 adults across the United States. The survey was conducted in April 2020 and focused on how study participants perceived risks associated with COVID-19 and what they were doing to reduce those risks. Further, the researchers broke the study participants into 4 generational groups when analyzing the survey data:

  • Baby Boomers: 55 years of age and older
  • Generation X: 40 to 54 years of age
  • Generation Y: 25 to 39 years of age
  • Generation Z: 18 to 24 years of age

The findings showed that Baby Boomers perceived COVID-19 to pose the greatest risk, which is not surprising given that the emphasis at the time of the survey was largely on the risk the disease posed to older adults. Additionally, Generations X and Y were next and had very similar assessments of risk. Generation Z had the lowest perceived views of risk associated with COVID-19, according to the study authors.

As for risk-reduction behaviors, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, Baby Boomers were again the most cautious and on average did the most to reduce their risk. Generation X engaged in the second most risk-reduction behaviors, whereas Generations Y and Z engaged in approximately the same number of risk-reduction behaviors.

Further, the researchers looked at how perceptions of risk influenced risk-reduction behaviors in each age group. For example, Baby Boomers who perceived COVID-19 to be a low risk still took far more precautions than people in Generations Y or Z who perceived COVID-19 to be a low risk. However, the gap narrowed when people viewed the risk as being more significant until there was a very small generational gap in risk-reduction behaviors for people who felt COVID-19 posed a serious risk.

“Persuasive health messages tailored for these younger generations, to increase their level of perceived risk, could encourage them to engage in more risk reduction—and help us reduce the spread of the disease,” Cheng said in a press release. “It would also be valuable to run this survey again to see how attitudes and behaviors have evolved over the past year. What’s changed? I’d also like to explore issues related to vaccination.”

Study finds risk communication targeting younger adults may have biggest impact. NC State University. Published February 23, 2021. Accessed February 25, 2021.

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