Underweight among adolescents in Denmark: prevalence, trends (1998-2018) and association of underweight with socioeconomic status

Bjørn Evald Holstein*, Anette Andersen, Mogens Trab Damsgaard, Katrine Rich Madsen, Trine Pagh Pedersen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Underweight among adolescents is an important clinical and public health issue. It is associated with adverse health outcomes throughout the life-span and may reflect food poverty, unhealthy eating habits, or some underlying health conditions.

To study prevalence and trends in underweight among adolescents 1998–2018, to examine social inequality in underweight, and whether social inequality changed over time.

Data were derived from 6 cross-sectional school surveys from The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study in Denmark. The study included 11-, 13-, and 15-year-old schoolchildren in random samples of schools in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 (n = 22,177). Underweight was determined by body mass index-for-age thinness grade 2–3 (the Cole and Lobstein method). Socioeconomic status was determined using occupational social class (the Danish OSC Measurement).

The overall prevalence of underweight was 3.1% among boys and 5.3% among girls (P < 0.0001) and decreased by age (P < 0.0001) among both boys and girls. The prevalence of underweight was almost stable from 1998 to 2018. There was no observed absolute or relative social inequality in the prevalence of underweight among boys or girls.

The prevalence of underweight in 11- to 15-year-olds was significantly higher among girls than boys. The prevalence remained stable from 1998 to 2018. There was no significant association between SES and prevalence of underweight. It is important to elucidate the underlying causes of underweight such as malnutrition, eating disorders, eating problems, loss of appetite, chronic diseases, insufficient knowledge of nutrients effects on bodily functions, and persistent pain.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFamily Practice
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)413-419
Publication statusPublished - 28. May 2022


  • Denmark
  • adolescents
  • socioeconomic status (SES)
  • thinness
  • trend study
  • underweight
  • Prevalence
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Overweight/epidemiology
  • Male
  • Thinness/epidemiology
  • Social Class
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Denmark/epidemiology
  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Child


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