Somatic symptoms in the Eastern and Western states of Germany 30 years after unification: Population-based survey analyses
Following German reunification, physical health indicators in the formerly separated states (German Democratic Republic- East/ Federal Republic of Germany-West) have converged. However, it remains unclear how these societal changes have impacted somatic complaints, a major indicator of physical and mental health. Therefore, we investigated how somatic symptom reporting in men and women evolved regarding residency.
We administered cross-sectional surveys representative of the German population with comparable sample size in 1994 (N = 3047), 2001 (N = 2050), 2013 (N = 2508) and 2019 (N = 2531) following random route procedure. Men and women aged 14–99 reported demographics and filled the Gießen Complaint List, a standardized questionnaire, to assess major physical symptoms.
Residency in the Eastern states was a determinant of higher symptom load in 2001 (β = 0.11, SE = 0.02, [95% CI = 0.07 to 0.15], p < .001) where symptom reporting has been consistently higher compared to the West from 1994 through 2013. However, in 2019, the pattern reversed and residency in the East was associated with lower symptom load (β = −0.15, SE =0.02, [95% CI = −0.19 to −0.11], p < .001). Predictors of high symptom load among all surveys were higher age, female sex, and low household income.
Symptom reporting did not converge, but reversed in 2019, with a higher symptom load in the Western states. This finding is particularly intriguing since other determinants, e.g., socioeconomic factors have converged, but have remained unfavorable in the East.