Long-term illness and psychosomatic complaints in children aged 2-17 years in the five Nordic countries. Comparison between 1984 and 1996

Eur J Public Health. 2001 Mar;11(1):35-42. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/11.1.35.


Background: The aim of the study was to investigate changes in psychosomatic complaints (PSC) and long-term illness (LTI) and the association between parents' socioeconomic conditions and children's complaints in the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden).

Methods: The cross-sectional study covered a representative sample of children, aged 2-17 years in each country, altogether 10,219 in 1984 and 10,317 in 1996. The data were collected by mailed questionnaires. The relationship between LTI, PSC and parents' education, income, satisfaction with economy and family situation was analysed using descriptive statistics and logistics regression.

Results: LTI and PSC in children have increased in all age groups between 1984 and 1996. The prevalence of LTI was higher among boys than girls, whereas the prevalence of PSC was higher among girls. In both years, the prevalence was higher in low-income, low-educated, one-parent families. The general tendency is the same in all countries, although there are some minor differences. The differences in 1984 remained unchanged in 1996 except for LTI that increased in low-educated families for Nordic children as a whole.

Conclusion: Socially and economically vulnerable families seem to run the greatest risk of having children with LTI and PSC, although the data do not permit a strict causal relationship to be drawn. Also, families with high formal education, solid economy and general satisfaction with their situation seem to be able to offer their children sheltered and stimulating conditions for growth and development, even in times of economic recession.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Iceland / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Scandinavian and Nordic Countries / epidemiology
  • Social Change