This commentary notes that messaging targeting adolescents and young adults have likely failed because they are not following message design best practices.
Effective public health messaging should be grounded in evidence-based theory and with knowledge of the target population’s messaging needs. Specifically, many behavioral theories demonstrate that messages should highlight an individual’s perceived threat (i.e., perceived severity and susceptibility). Although most messages highlight that adolescents and young adults are susceptible to contracting COVID-19 if necessary precautions are not taken, messages have failed to highlight the severity of the virus, and in many cases, have communicated lessened severity for this population. This has led to many adolescents and young adults not engaging in recommended behaviors (e.g., social distancing). It is recommended that messages highlight severity by making meaningful connections to older family members and those with pre-existing health conditions because research suggests that adolescents and young adults could be motivated by altruistic messaging. Additionally, messages targeting adolescents and young adults ignore another evidence-based theoretical construct: efficacy. Messages should focus on how to successfully enact recommended behaviors and overcome barriers. Effective mitigation of COVID-19 is dependent on effective, evidence-based messaging.