The Role of Tailored Public Health Messaging to Young Adults during COVID-19: "There's a lot of ambiguity around what it means to be safe"

PLoS One. 2021 Oct 1;16(10):e0258121. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0258121. eCollection 2021.


The COVID-19 global incidence rate among young adults (age 19-40) drastically increased since summer 2020, and young adults were often portrayed by popular media as the "main spreader" of the pandemic. However, young adults faced unique challenges during the pandemic due to working in high-risk, low-paying essential service occupations, as well as having higher levels of financial insecurity and mental burden. This qualitative study aims to examine the attitudes and perceptions of health orders of young adults to better inform public health messaging to reach this demographic and increase compliance to public health orders. A total of 50 young adults residing in British Columbia, Canada, were recruited to participate in focus group in groups of four to six. Focus group discussions were conducted via teleconferencing. Thematic analysis revealed four major themes: 1) risks of contracting the disease, 2) the perceived impact of COVID-19, 3) responsibility of institutions, 4) and effective public health messaging. Contrary to existing literature, our findings suggest young adults feel highly responsible for protecting themselves and others. They face a higher risk of depression and anxiety compared to other age groups, especially when they take on multiple social roles such as caregivers and parents. Our findings suggest young adults face confusion due to inconsistent messaging and are not reached due to the ineffectiveness of existing strategies. We recommend using evidence-based strategies proven to promote behaviour change to address the barriers identified by young adults through tailoring public health messages, specifically by using positive messaging, messaging that considers the context of the intended audiences, and utilizing digital platforms to facilitate two-way communication.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / pathology*
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Perception
  • Public Health*
  • Risk
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • Social Media
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.