Childhood chronic illness: prevalence, severity, and impact

Am J Public Health. 1992 Mar;82(3):364-71. doi: 10.2105/ajph.82.3.364.


Background: Using data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey, this article presents national estimates of the prevalence and impact of childhood chronic conditions.

Methods: Proxy responses to a checklist of child health conditions administered for 17,110 children under 18 years of age were used. Conditions were classified as chronic if they were first noticed more than 3 months prior to the interview or if they were the type that would ordinarily be of extended duration, such as arthritis.

Results: An estimated 31% of children were affected by chronic conditions. Among these children, highly prevalent conditions included respiratory allergies 9.7 per 100, repeated ear infections 8.3 per 100 and asthma 4.3 per 100. These children can be divided into three groups: 66% with mild conditions that result in little or no bother or activity limitation; 29% with conditions of moderate severity that result in some bother or limitation of activity, but not both; and 5% with severe conditions that cause frequent bother and limitation of activity. The 5% with severe conditions accounted for 19% of physician contacts and 33% of hospital days related to chronic illness.

Conclusions: Childhood chronic conditions have highly variable impacts on children's activities and use of health care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Welfare*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease / classification
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Surveys
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology