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Self-reported health problems and sickness absence in different age groups predominantly engaged in physical work
  1. Simo Taimela1,
  2. Esa Lr2,
  3. Antti Malmivaara4,
  4. Jaakko Tiekso1,
  5. Harri Sintonen3,
  6. Selina Justn1,
  7. Timo Aro5
  1. 1
    Evalua International, Vantaa, Finland
  2. 2
    University of Oulu, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Oulu, Finland
  3. 3
    University of Helsinki, Department of Public Health, Helsinki, Finland
  4. 4
    Finnish Office for Health Technology Assessment, FinOHTA/Stakes, Helsinki, Finland
  5. 5
    Mutual Pension Insurance Company Ilmarinen, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Dr S Taimela, Evalua International, PO Box 35, FIN-01531 Vantaa, Finland; simo.taimela{at}


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. A 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 1830-year-olds to 54 in 5561-year-olds. However, in those aged 1830 years, 71 had been absent from work and in those aged 5561 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 taking sick leave, the estimated mean number of absence days increased by 14 for each rise of 1 unit of the impairment score scale 010.

Conclusions: Young subjects had surprisingly high probability for sickness absence although they reported better health than their older colleagues. A 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 for both management and the healthcare system in the prevention of work disability.

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  • Ethics: The Helsinki University Research Ethics Board for the Occupational Health reviewed the study plan and gave their approval in advance. Record number (Dnro): 28/E2/04 (23 April 2004). All subjects received written information regarding the study according to the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki. Only subjects who gave their signed informed consent were included in the study. The consent letters are stored with other study material.

  • Competing interests: ST and JT are shareholders of and SJ employed by Evalua International. EL, AM, HS and TA have no competing interests to declare.

  • Funding: Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (TEKES); The Finnish National Fund for Research and Development (SITRA); Pfizer Oy. The authors work was independent of the funders.

  • Abbreviations:
    Akaike information criterion
    zero-inflated negative binomial

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