In the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) birth cohort, chronic disabling fatigue lasting ≥6 months affected 1.3% of 13-year-olds, was equally common in boys and girls, and became more prevalent with increasing family adversity.
ALSPAC data were used to estimate the prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) at age 16 years, defined by parental report of unexplained disabling fatigue lasting ≥6 months. We investigated gender and a composite 14-item family adversity index as risk factors. School absence data were obtained from the National Pupil Database. Multiple imputation was used to address bias caused by missing data.
The prevalence of CFS was 1.86% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.47 to 2.24). After excluding children with high levels of depressive symptoms, the prevalence was 0.60% (95% CI: 0.37 to 0.84). Authorized school absences were much higher (mean difference: 35.6 [95% CI: 26.4 to 44.9] half-day sessions per academic year) and reported depressive symptoms were much more likely (odds ratio [OR]: 11.0 [95% CI: 5.92 to 20.4]) in children with CFS than in those without CFS. Female gender (OR: 1.95 [95% CI: 1.33 to 2.86]) and family adversity (OR: 1.20 [95% CI: 1.01 to 1.42] per unit family adversity index) were also associated with CFS.
CFS affected 1.9% of 16-year-olds in a UK birth cohort and was positively associated with higher family adversity. Gender was a risk factor at age 16 years but not at age 13 years or in 16-year-olds without high levels of depressive symptoms.