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J Adolesc Health. 1998 Apr;22(4):326-33.

Silent dropouts in health surveys: are nonrespondent absent teenagers different from those who participate in school-based health surveys?

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  • 1Institut Universitaire de Médecine Sociale et Préventive, Lausanne, Switzerland.



To compare the health problems, needs and behavior of pupils absent from school with participants in the Swiss Multicenter Adolescent Survey on Health.


The present pupils' group (N = 3324; adolescents between 15 and 20 years old, randomly selected from high schools and professional centers of French-speaking Switzerland) answered a self-administered anonymous questionnaire. The absent pupils group (N = 96) was questioned on the phone by means of a shorter but similar version of the questionnaire.


The proportion of respondents reporting skin problems, weight concerns, sleep difficulties, headaches, stomach aches, as well as vision or dental problems was higher in the present pupils sample (p < 0.01). The percentages of teenagers reporting the need for help were higher in the present pupils sample than in the absent group: nutrition (21.8 vs. 9.4, p < 0.01) stress (44.2 vs. 31.3, p < 0.05), depression (28.4 vs. 18.9, p < 0.05), sleep problems (21.3 vs. 12.1, p < 0.05), sports (9.2 vs. 4.2, p < 0.05), and love life (31.5 vs. 14.5, p < 0.01). The rates of hospitalizations and injuries were lower among absent pupils (28.2 vs. 40.1, p < 0.01). A higher proportion of absent students were sexually active (p < 0.05). They had a tendency to use tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis more frequently than did present pupils (p < 0.05).


Within the Swiss context, nonparticipation owing to school absenteeism is probably related less to physical or chronic health problems that to lifestyles which predispose these students to truancy.

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