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Self-reported health problems and sickness absence in different age groups predominantly engaged in physical work
  1. Simo Taimela (simo.taimela{at}
  1. Evalua International, Finland
    1. Esa Läärä (esa.laara{at}
    1. University of Oulu, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Finland
      1. Antti Malmivaara (antti.malmivaara{at}
      1. Finnish Office for Health Technology Assessment, FinOHTA/Stakes, Finland
        1. Jaakko Tiekso (jaakko.tiekso{at}
        1. Evalua International, Finland
          1. Harri Sintonen (harri.sintonen{at}
          1. University of Helsinki, Department of Public Health, Finland
            1. Selina Justén (selina.justen{at}
            1. Evalua International, Finland
              1. Timo Aro (timo.aro{at}
              1. Mutual Pension Insurance Company Ilmarinen, Finland


                Objectives To study the associations between self-reported health problems and sickness absence from work. Methods The results of a questionnaire survey were combined with archival data of sickness absence of 1341 employees (88% males; 62% blue-collar) in the construction, service and maintenance work within one corporation in Finland. Sex, age, and occupational grading were controlled as confounders. Zero-inflated negative binomial (ZINB) regression model was used in the statistical analysis of sickness absence data. Results The prevalence of self-reported health problems increased with age, from 23% in the 18-30 year old to 54% in the 55-61 year old. However, in the age group 18 to 30 years, 71% had been absent from work and in the age group 55 to 61 years this proportion was 53%. When health problems and occupational grading were accounted for in the ZINB model, age as such was not associated with the number of days on sick leave, but the young workers still had higher propensity for (any) sickness absence than the old. Self-rated future working ability and musculoskeletal impairment were strong determinants of sickness absence. Among those susceptible to have sick leaves, the estimated mean number of absence days increased by 14% for each rise of 1 unit of the impairment score (scale 0 to 10). Conclusions Young subjects had surprisingly high probability for sickness absence although they reported better health than their older colleagues. Higher total count of absence days was found among subjects reporting health problems and poorer working ability, regardless of age, sex and occupational grade. These findings have implications both for the management and health care system in the prevention of work disability.

                • age
                • cohort
                • occupational
                • self-rated health
                • sickness absence

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