The Youthification and Feminization of Health Problems

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, caused by a coronavirus that was part of the family of coronaviruses that had caused earlier outbreaks of influenza-like illnesses, like SARS, it too affected predominantly those above sixty years of age. That is why restrictions on going out were targeted in particular at those in the senior citizen bracket so that they would not expose themselves to the risk of catching the infection. And in fact, the elderly were predominantly affected all over the world, and there were even allegations of neglecting them in the UK, for example, where many of that category are to be found in nursing or care homes.

However, after a few months, Covid-19 infection began to be diagnosed in children under twelve years of age, and I recall a study published in the US concerning about 200 children who had presented with what was diagnosed as multi-system inflammation, and we saw photographs of children who had patches of red or purplish inflamed skin in the lower limbs.

“This ‘youthification’ of Covid-19 is of course a natural phenomenon, part of the Covid syndrome which is not fully explained as yet, that is, what makes the children vulnerable to the virus. However, as the year rolled out the statistics started showing that not only the elderly but also younger adults were being infected, though they were mainly in the fourth or fifth decades, Besides, unlike the influenza which is present during winter, Covid has continued to spread in all climes. This is another mystery which has led scientists and health professionals to question whether it is a natural virus or whether it could have escaped from a laboratory…”


This is what an update dated February 24, 2021 from the Centers for Disease Control, USA has to say: ‘Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. We do not yet know what causes MIS-C. However, we know that many children with MIS-C had the virus that causes Covid-19, or had been around someone with Covid-19. MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care.’ (italics added)

This ‘youthification’ of Covid-19 is of course a natural phenomenon, part of the Covid syndrome which is not fully explained as yet, that is, what makes the children vulnerable to the virus. However, as the year rolled out the statistics started showing that not only the elderly but also younger adults were being infected, though they were mainly in the fourth or fifth decades, Besides, unlike the influenza which is present during winter, Covid has continued to spread in all climes. This is another mystery which has led scientists and health professionals to question whether it is a natural virus or whether it could have escaped from a laboratory.

It will be recalled that a second WHO team was sent to Wuhan recently to try and get answers about the origin of Covid-19, but its report pointing to bats as the vectors has not been totally accepted. In fact a group of French scientists have written a letter to WHO raising many questions about the methodology and the findings of the WHO team, and pressing for a more thorough investigation along different lines. Be that as it may, the fact that Covid infection is presenting in such multifarious ways, affecting not only the lungs but all organs in all age groups, and causing immune-related phenomena such as the tendency to blood clotting, is posing a real challenge to the medical world as to what exactly we are dealing with. Definitely not a ‘simple’ influenza virus – but then what?

What has also characterized the pandemic is the revolt of younger people at serial lockdowns, especially in countries in Europe where outdoor activities as an escape from the claustrophobic environment of apartment living is a way of life. But it also happened in some states in the US, such as Texas, where the claim to exercise one’s freedoms overrode consideration for the common good. The protests which spilled into the streets and were at times violent, with burning of masks which they did not want to wear, meant that crowds were gathering.

This has happened in India too, where the surge of cases especially in the state of Maharashtra has affected the youth who went out to enjoy themselves often without taking the due precautions, and thus according to the medical experts there became superspreaders as in the US and Europe. This may also have led to extending vaccine coverage to younger age groups, above 45 being currently the cut-off in India until the vaccine supplies are scaled up, when consideration will probably be given to those below 45.

So whereas in the case of children, it has been a natural spread of Covid, in other youth it is their behaviour that has been the reason for them being affected.

That human behaviours, grouped under the umbrella term ‘lifestyle’, can be a driver of health problems and major diseases is now no longer a secret. Youthification has been seen in the so-called Non-Communicable Diseases or NCDs, where any number of studies and surveys have shown the lowering of the age of onset of conditions such as cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes (different from Type 1 which affects the paediatric age-group) obesity and so on, all related to a number of risk factors that range from junk food to lack of exercise and substance abuse.

The term ‘feminisation’ of disease as far as I remember was first applied to HIV/AIDS, and is a complex issue that has been the subject of many, and ongoing studies and publications by the experts concerned.

However, both youthification and feminization of health or health-related issues have been noted in the regular Youth Global Surveys and Global School Health Surveys (GSBS) which are carried out at regular intervals based upon a WHO template, and also validated by WHO before it is submitted to the national authorities and then made public. Different countries, especially the developed ones, have their own methodologies, but basically the trends are similar practically all over the world, perhaps more pronounced in the industrialized world.

This is the case too in Mauritius, which has a focal point from the Public Health Division to carry out these surveys. The latest GSHS one of 2017 is in the public domain, and surveys the age range 13-17 years. The data cover sexual habits, substance abuse (tobacco and drugs), nutritional habits, physical exercise among other information sought.

Unfortunately, despite all the efforts put in by the concerned organisms to promote sound health, these trends do not seem to be dented if at all. The only thing that can be said is that it is up to the youth to become more aware of how their lifestyles are impacting them adversely, and to assume their responsibility accordingly and realise the dangers ahead for their health – why for their life itself.

You can take a horse to the water but…


* Published in print edition on 16 April 2021

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