Prevalence and impact of disabling chronic conditions in childhood

Am J Public Health. 1998 Apr;88(4):610-7. doi: 10.2105/ajph.88.4.610.


Objectives: This study provides a current national profile of the prevalence and impact of chronic conditions causing childhood disability. Disability is defined as a long-term reduction in ability to conduct social role activities, such as school or play, because of a chronic physical or mental condition.

Methods: A cross-sectional descriptive analysis was performed on data from 99513 children younger than 18 years who were included in the 1992-1994 National Health Interview Survey. The response rate exceeded 93% during each year.

Results: A significant proportion of children, estimated at 6.5% of all US children, experienced some degree of disability. The most common causes of childhood disability were respiratory diseases and mental impairments. Prevalence of disability was higher for older children, boys, and children from low-income and single-parent families. Childhood disability is estimated to result in 66 million restricted activity days annually, including 24 million days lost from school. Furthermore, disability in childhood results in an added 26 million physician contacts and 5 million hospital days annually.

Conclusions: Childhood disability has profound impacts on children, the education system, and the health care system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism
  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Welfare*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Population Surveillance
  • Poverty
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Single Parent
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology