Five Health-Related Causes of Chronic Absenteeism

August 29, 2016 | Written By:

Attendance Awareness Month starts later this week. In order to understand how to reduce chronic absenteeism, an understanding of the reasons behind missed school days is key. One of the main reasons students miss school is due to both chronic and acute health conditions.

Research indicates that common health conditions resulting in missed school include asthma, influenza, diabetes, obesity and related illness, seizure disorders, mental health and anxiety and vision problems. This pattern may be either exacerbated or ameliorated by a variety of factors in the school environment.

We’ve outlined several of the health-related causes of chronic absenteeism. Stay tuned in the following days for strategies and examples of how schools can address these causes and make sure all students are in school and ready to learn!


In 2009, 1 in 10 children were diagnosed with asthma, according to the CDC. Asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism, accounting for about 14 million absences each school year, or one-third of all school days missed. Schools can intervene and implement an asthma management program in order to support an asthma-friendly community for its students. In addition to that program, showing students how to use their asthma medication can also empower children to better manage their asthma independently.

Oral Health

Children ages 5-17 miss nearly two million school days in a single year due to dental health problems. Best practices for oral health can be learned outside of the dental office. Community-based oral health programs that target dental sealants, preventative services and restorative services could greatly reduce school absenteeism. Preventative services make it easier to manage dental issues before they become a larger health problem, and cause greater negative effects. Teledentistry, bringing portable pop-up clinics to the community, is one way to address dental issues and relieve the lifelong burden they place on young children.

Behavioral Health

Behavioral interventions are important because students’ behavior affects the social and learning environment of every student. It’s important for schools to assess and monitor the school’s culture in order for students to achieve academic success. Up to 20 percent of children experience a behavioral health disorder in a given year. Yet only 25 percent of children in need of behavioral health care get the help they need—and students of color are less likely to have access to health services. Finding out which positive behavioral interventions work best is a part of preventing absenteeism, as well as maintaining a stable environment.

Violence and Trauma

Twenty percent of children witnessed violence in their family or in the neighborhood during the previous year. In addition, 16.6 percent of children experience physical abuse, 9.3 percent experience sexual abuse and 7.1 percent experience emotional/psychological abuse. Violence and trauma can affect children’s ability and willingness to attend school. As is mentioned earlier, only 25 percent of children in need of behavioral health services get the help they need, which has significant implications for children impacted by violence and trauma.

Acute Illness

When it comes to acute illness, prevention is one of the best practices to engage in. Although acute illness is short lived, through diet, exercise and other preventative practices, acute illness could be reduced significantly. Many of the other areas previously mentioned can help reduce acute illness through their implementation. Roughly 40 percent of school-aged children missed three or more days of school in the past year due to acute illness. Schools can promote influenza vaccines, handwashing best practices programs and can research ways to make their schools more environmentally friendly.

The health-related causes of absenteeism stretch even further than those listed here, and continue into students’ home environments and beyond. Through education and understanding of these health conditions, schools will have the tools they need to keep their environments safe and healthy, thus making it easier for students to increase attendance. Learn more about the background and causes of chronic absenteeism in section one of Addressing the Health-Related Causes of Chronic Absenteeism: A Toolkit for Action.

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Note - updated to the HSC Newsletter list 1.3.2017 per the updated newsletter configuration