Children who are unhappy at school, complain
of aches and pains or skip school for trivial reasons are more
likely to be permanently off work sick when they are adults, new
research, published in the March issue of the British
Journal of Psychiatry, shows a strong association between
childhood temperament and sickness absence in middle age.
Researchers studied over 7,100 people who were
born in Aberdeen between 1950 and 1955. During the 1960s, data was
collected on the children’s educational performance and how
regularly they attended primary school. Teachers were asked to
assess each child’s behaviour, temperament and reasons for missing
school. In 2001, the researchers followed up the participants to
find out their current employment status.
At the 2001 follow-up, 392 of the participants
(5.5%) said they were ‘permanently sick or disabled’. There was no
evidence that those children who were regularly absent from school
because of poor physical health were more likely to be sick or
disabled in later life. However, there was a link between the
children’s temperament at school – as reported by their teachers –
and long-term sickness absence.
A quarter of the children whose teachers
reported them as ‘often appearing miserable, unhappy, tearful or
distressed’ or ‘often complaining of aches and pains’ were
permanently sick or disabled 40 years later.
In addition, over 10% of the children whose
teachers described them as ‘tending to be fearful or afraid of new
things or new situations’ or ‘tending to be absent from school for
trivial reasons’ were out of work in adulthood.
The researchers believe there are a ‘range of
vulnerabilities’ established in childhood that influence behaviour
in later life. For example, children who show signs of problematic
behaviour and temperament may be more likely to have symptoms of
depression and anxiety in later life. They may also have
unexplained physical symptoms, and be less able to manage or
tolerate minor discomfort and pain.
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Henderson M, Hotopf M and Leon DA (2009) Childhood temperament and long-term sickness absence in adult life, British Journal of Psychiatry, 194: 220-223