One in four young Belgians reports not being in good mental or physical health, according to a new study by health insurer Mutualités Libres, Le Soir reports.
The study also found that the same proportion of young Belgians believe that they do not eat healthily whilst one in five confesses to not engaging in regular physical exercise or sleeping enough.
The study surveyed a representative sample of 1,000 French-speaking and Dutch-speaking Belgians aged 16 to 25. Yet despite the apparent poor health of a significant proportion of Belgium's youth, it also noted that only half of young Belgians are actually concerned about the state of their health.
The study highlighted notable gender-related differences in how young Belgians perceive their well-being. Twice as many Belgian girls claim that they do not get enough exercise compared to boys (30% vs 15%); 27% of Belgian girls profess to not feeling good about themselves compared to 14% of boys.
"In almost every category there is a notable difference between boys and girls," said Xavier Brenez, the CEO of Mutualités Libres. "In general, the girls claim to be in worse shape than boys."
Yet Brenez stressed that the study is based solely on self-reports rather than independent medical assessments: "The study is based on perceptions and not objective medical parameters. So this doesn't necessarily mean that boys have a healthier life than girls... What is certain is that girls are more self-critical, worry more about their health and, above all, talk about it more than boys, who can sometimes be in denial."
The broader background
The study comes against the backdrop of various studies which show that the physical and mental health of young people across the Western world has worsened significantly due to lockdowns triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A recent report by the OECD found that "in Belgium, France and the United States the share of young people experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression was more than twice as high than the most recent data available from before the [Covid-19] crisis".
Moreover, the study noted that in Belgium "the share of 16‑24 year‑olds experiencing symptoms of depression stood at 29% in April 2020: a threefold increase among young women and a fourfold increase among young men compared to 2018".
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The OECD study also found that the lockdowns in Belgium appear to have triggered "a widening of gender differences in anxiety prevalence". It noted that "symptoms of anxiety were already more common among young women before the crisis but have increased significantly more among young women since the onset of the pandemic".
In 2018, 2.5% more young Belgian women reported symptoms of depression compared to young Belgian men; by March 2021 this difference widened to almost 15%.
"These data indicate that the COVID‑19 crisis continues to cast a shadow over young people's lives," the report concluded.