Subjective health complaints in adolescence. A cross-national comparison of prevalence and dimensionality

Eur J Public Health. 2001 Mar;11(1):4-10. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/11.1.4.


Background: The purpose of this work was to study the prevalence and dimensionality of subjective health complaints in a cross-national population of adolescents.

Methods: The analyses were based on data from a WHO cross-national survey, Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC). The study included a representative sample of 11, 13 and 15-year-old adolescents from Finland, Norway, Poland and Scotland. Data were collected in 1993-1994 and the total sample included 20,324 adolescents. Subjective health complaints were measured by the HBSC Symptom Checklist (HBSC-SCL), including headaches, abdominal pain, backache, feeling low, irritability, nervousness, sleeping difficulties and dizziness. Descriptive analyses, MANOVA and structural equation modelling (EQS) were conducted.

Results: Patterns of reporting were consistent for all four countries. A large number of students reported a high level of symptoms. The reporting of most symptoms increased with age. Girls reported significantly more symptoms than boys and the gender differences also increased with age. Structural equation modelling suggests a model of two correlated factors, which can be labelled psychological and somatic.

Conclusion: The findings of this study indicate that students report a high level of subjective health complaints already at the age of 11 years. The reporting of most symptoms increases with age and more so for girls than for boys. The finding of two dimensions that differ qualitatively, suggests that these dimensions may have different etiologies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Data Collection
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Poland / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • World Health Organization