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Urbanization, and child mental health and life functioning in Vietnam: implications for global health disparities

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Abstract

Purpose

Urbanization is linked to increased health risks, including mental health. However, the large majority of this research has been conducted in high-income countries, and little is known about effects in low-and-middle-income countries (LMIC) where urbanization is occurring most frequently and most rapidly. Within global mental health, children and adolescents are a critical but understudied population. The present study assessed relations between urbanization factors, and child mental health in Vietnam, a Southeast Asian LMIC.

Methods

Most studies investigating urbanization and mental health have used geographically based dichotomous urban vs. rural variables. Because of significant limitations with this approach, the present study assessed parent-reported urbanization factors (e.g., pollution, crime). In Sub-study #1 (cross-sectional), 1314 parents from 10 Vietnam provinces completed the Urbanization Factors Questionnaire, Child Behavior Checklist (mental health), and Brief Impairment Scale (life functioning). In Sub-study #2 (longitudinal), 256 parents from one highly urban and one highly rural province completed the same measures, at three timepoints across 12 months.

Results

Cross-sectional canonical correlations identified relatively small (e.g., R2 = 0.08) but significant relations between urbanization factors, and child functioning. Parallel analyses using a geographically defined urban vs. rural variable did not produce significant results. The large majority of longitudinal relations between the different urbanization factors and child functioning were non-significant.

Conclusions

This study, among the first to assess urbanization as a multi-dimensional continuous construct in relation to child psychopathology, highlights the value of the use of an urbanization factors approach. A new “urbanization factors differentials” theory is proposed to suggest how effects of urbanization factors might result in global health disparities.

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Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge the families who participated in this study, and the support of research staff at participating educational institutions.

Author information

Correspondence to Bahr Weiss.

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Cite this article

Weiss, B., Dang, H., Lam, T.T. et al. Urbanization, and child mental health and life functioning in Vietnam: implications for global health disparities. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-020-01838-4

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Keywords

  • Urbanization
  • Child and adolescent mental health
  • Vietnam
  • Global health
  • LMIC