Loss of a Sibling In Childhood Increases Short and Long Term Mortality

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Yongfu Yu, PhD Department of Clinical Epidemiology Aarhus University Hospital Aarhus N, Denmark

Dr. Yong Yu

Dr. Yongfu Yu, PhD
Department of Clinical Epidemiology
Aarhus University Hospital
Aarhus, Denmark

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Bereavement by the death of a close relative is ranked as one of the most severe life events and it is likely to cause psychological stress regardless of coping mechanisms. An increased risk of mortality and adverse health outcomes has been observed among the bereaved spouses, parents, and children. It is estimated that nearly 8% of individuals in the US experienced a sibling death in childhood but much less is known about its health consequences. Sibling relationship tends to be the longest and the most intimate in family thus the death of a sibling can be a devastating life event, especially when this event happens at early ages. However, to our knowledge, no study has investigated the effects of sibling death in childhood on subsequent mortality in bereaved siblings with a long follow-up time.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: We conducted a population-based study that included more than 5 million Danish and Swedish children. We found that loss of a sibling in childhood (from six months after birth until 18) was associated with an increased mortality risk later in life. The increased mortality persisted across the follow-up period, irrespective of age at bereavement and type of death. The higher mortality risks were observed in the first year and among same-sex siblings or siblings with a small age difference.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Bereavement in childhood by the death of a sibling was associated with an increased risk of mortality in both short- and long- term. Health professionals should be aware of children’s vulnerability after experiencing sibling loss, especially for same-sexed sibling pairs and sibling pairs with close age. Social support may help to reduce the level of grief and minimize potential adverse health effects on the bereaved individuals.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Further research on social environment and family characteristics might help explain underlying reasons that link sibling death and increased risk of death for the bereaved sibling. Also, it should be recognized that the increased mortality might only represent the tip of the iceberg effects. Therefore, the increased mortality risk may indicate substantial negative impacts on health, family resources, social life and well-being of the bereaved populations.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.


Yu Y, Liew Z, Cnattingius S, Olsen J, Vestergaard M, Fu B, Parner ET, Qin G, Zhao N, Li J. Association of Mortality With the Death of a Sibling in Childhood. JAMA Pediatr. Published online April 24, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.0197

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Last Updated on April 25, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD