To identify and describe distinct developmental trajectories of health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in a national level Australian population sample, overall and separately for boys and girls.
Data were from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Participants were children aged 4–5 years recruited in 2004 and followed through to age 16–17 years in 2016, and their caregivers. Group-based trajectory modelling was used to identify groups of children that follow qualitatively distinct developmental trajectories of HRQoL.
Three distinct trajectories were identified for the total sample: (1) high-stable (52.2% of children); (2) middle-stable (38.0%); and (3) low-declining (9.8%). These trajectories differed for boys, who saw increasing HRQoL in the highest trajectory group; a middle-stable trajectory; and declining and rebounding HRQoL in the lowest trajectory group. In contrast, girls saw no increasing or rebounding trajectories; approximately half of girls had high-stable HRQoL and the remaining half had either steadily or rapidly declining HRQoL from age 4–5 to 16–17 years.
Our results highlight the importance of considering the distinct trajectories for girls and boys and not relying on population mean levels of HRQoL for decision-making. The presence of developmentally distinct trajectories of HRQoL, and differences in the trajectories faced by boys and girls, should be considered when assessing the effectiveness of treatments and interventions impacting upon HRQoL throughout childhood and adolescence. Failure to account for these pre-existing trajectories may over- or under-estimate treatment effects.