OBJECTIVES: The association between socioeconomic status and recurrent abdominal pain (RAP) among adolescents is an understudied issue. No study has examined whether such an association changes over time. The aim was to examine trends in RAP among adolescents in Denmark from 1991 to 2018, to examine whether there was social inequality in RAP and whether this inequality varied over time.
METHODS: The study used data from the Danish part of the international Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study of nationally representative samples of 11-, 13- and 15-year-olds. This study pooled data from eight comparable surveys from 1991 to 2018, overall participation rate 88.0%, n=30,048. The definition of RAP was self-reported stomach-ache daily or several days per week during the past six months. We reported absolute inequality as prevalence difference in RAP between low and high socioeconomic status and relative inequality as odds ratio for RAP by socioeconomic status.
RESULTS: In the entire study population, 5.6% reported RAP, 3.1% among boys and 7.8% among girls. There was a significant increase in RAP from 1991 to 2018 among boys and girls, test for trend, p<0.0001. The prevalence of RAP was significantly higher in low than high socioeconomic status, OR=1.63 (95% CI: 1.42-1.87). The absolute social inequality in RAP fluctuated with no consistent increasing or decreasing pattern.
CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of RAP increased from 1991 to 2018. The prevalence was significantly higher among girls than among boys, and significantly higher in low socioeconomic status families. Professionals should be aware of RAP as common and potentially serious health problems among children and adolescents. In addition to clinical examination it is important to focus on improving the child's quality of life, reduce parents' and children's concerns about the seriousness of the condition, and consider supplements to medicine use.