The prevalence of long-term illness in school-aged children

In Norway, about 6,000 children miss out on school due to long-term illness every year. In Europe, the same number amounts to 522,000. These are estimates made by the research team at No Isolation. In this article, we will explain how we came to these numbers, and show to external research that backs it up.

Many diseases, such as cancers, neuromuscular diseases, CFS/ME, and other rare illnesses, may lead to long periods of school absence due to being bedridden or hospitalised. In our estimates, we define severe long-term illness as a situation where children who, because of their disease, are absent from school for two months a year or more.

As there are no official statistics or research estimates on the number of children with long-term illness that are absent from school, we had to map this ourselves. We talked to health professionals, patient organisations, and researchers, to find the prevalence of affected people within each relevant disease, and how it differs between age groups. We then used these percentages and multiplied them by the total amount of children of school age (between the age of 5–19 in Norway). The total prevalence of children with long-term illness added up to 0.7 percent. When we multiply this number by the total amount of school-aged children living in Norway (950,000), we get 6,185.

We have then taken the prevalence estimate of children with long-term illness in Norway and applied it in other European countries, giving us approximate numbers of children with long-term illness within the EU-28. We have reason to believe that the estimate is conservative; Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics demonstrates that 1.6% of all students in Australia are affected by some form of long-term illness, while research data from the U.S. school system shows that 1.5% of American students suffer from the same (Gilmour, Hopkins, Meyers & Strafford, 2015).


  1. Gilmour, M., Hopkins, L., Meyers, G., Nell, C. & Stafford, N. (2015). School connection for seriously sick kids. Who are they, how do we know what works, and whose job is it? Canberra, Australia: Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth.