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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: African Parents Underreport Health Symptoms in Girls

Parents in sub-Saharan Africa were less likely to report episodes of fever and diarrhea among their female children, compared to males, suggesting a gender imbalance in reporting that undercuts accurate estimates of child illness, according to a study led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher.

The study, in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, recommends more research into the possible reasons and “practical impact” of the apparent disparity, saying the underreporting of symptoms in girls may indicate that “a tremendous amount of untreated illness goes unnoticed.”

The authors investigated differences in symptom reporting by child gender in a sample of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, using national surveys based on parents’ reports of their children’s health. Overall, both fevers and diarrhea were reported significantly less often for girls than boys under age 5.

Lead author Dr. Peter Rockers, assistant professor of global health at BUSPH, said that, regardless of the reasons for the disparity, the imbalance in reporting has profound implications for child health.

“From a measurement perspective, estimates of gender imbalances in child illness and treatment based on parental reports may be inaccurate,” Dr. Rockers said. “From a public health perspective, parental underreporting of symptoms in girls may indicate a tremendous amount of untreated illness that goes unnoticed.”

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