Led by Dr. Kristen Mmari, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, the survey assessed health challenges faced by 2,400 15- to 19-year-olds from impoverished areas in Baltimore, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Ibadan and New Delhi, as well as their perceptions of their environments.Really? How terrible! Who did that to these poor children?
The researchers found many similarities—in all five cities, adolescents were exposed to unsanitary conditions, substance abuse and violence—but the differences between each area were especially compelling. Overall, teenagers in Baltimore and Johannesburg, despite being located in comparably wealthy countries, had far worse health outcomes and tended to perceive their communities more negatively.
According to Mmari, one could point to a combination of environmental and social factors, including the exposure to violence and a lack of social support, which were found to be less prevalent in the three other cities.
Adolescents in Baltimore and Johannesburg also had relatively lower levels of "social cohesion," a phrase used to describe the emotional support provided by one's family and neighbors. In Baltimore, many poor teens grow up in single-parent homes and have a father in prison, while those in Johannesburg tend to lose their parents to AIDS.
"In those cities, kids were much more likely to live in a one-parent household," Mmari says. (Or, as a youth in Baltimore described it, "The kids are being raised by themselves.") "Whereas in Delhi, most of these kids are still living in two-parent homes, so they are getting much more support."