Using the Health Belief Model to Understand Age Differences in Perceptions and Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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COVID-19 severity and mortality risk are greater for older adults whereas economic impact is deeper for younger adults. Using the Health Belief Model (HBM) as a framework, this study used a web-based survey to examine how perceived COVID-19 susceptibility and severity and perceived efficacy of recommended health behaviors varied by age group and were related to the adoption of health behaviors. Proportional odds logistic regression was used to examine the relationship between age group and perceived COVID-19 susceptibility, severity, impact, and health behavior efficacy and adoption. Structural equation modeling based on HBM constructs examined the relationships between health beliefs and behaviors. Data from 820 participants (Ontario, Canada) were analyzed (age: 42.7, 16.2 years; 79% women). Middle-aged and older adults reported greater concerns about the personal risk of hospitalization and mortality, economic impact, and social impact of COVID-19 than young adults. Middle-aged adults also reported greatest concern for other age groups. Adoption and perceived efficacy of health behaviors was similar across age groups with few exceptions. Both middle-aged and older-adults were more likely to perceive their own and each other’s age groups as responding adequately to COVID-19 compared to young adults. Structural equation modeling indicated perceived benefits of health behaviors were the primary driver of behavior uptake, with socioeconomic factors and perceived severity and susceptibility indirectly associated with uptake through their influence on perceived benefits. Overall, these results suggest adoption of health behaviors is very high with few differences between age groups, despite differences in perceived impact of COVID-19. Public health communications should focus on the benefits of health behaviors to drive adoption.

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Authors: Lauren E Bechard, Maximilian Bergelt, Bobby Neudorf, Tamara C DeSouza, Laura E Middleton