Life expectancy lower for Scots than ethnic minorities, report shows

26/08/2016
davidhughes

Study finds Asian migrants have better life expectancy than native Scots

A RECENT study on differences in life expectancy between Scots and ethnic minorities, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, has found life expectancy among white Scottish people to be lower than that for people from ethnic minorities residing in Scotland.

The report, which looked at population data from the 2001 census and the number of deaths in the subsequent three years following the census, noted that Indian, Pakistani and Chinese immigrants were generally expected to live longer than their Scottish counterparts.

On average, life expectancy for white Scottish males was age 74.7, whereas males from India, Pakistan and China had life expectancies of ages 80.9, 79.3 and 79 respectively. Furthermore, white Scottish females were expected to live until age 79.4, while Indian, Pakistani and Chinese women were expected to live until ages 83.3, 84.6 and 83.4 respectively.

Indian, Pakistani and Chinese immigrants were generally expected to live longer than their Scottish counterparts.

The report suggests a number of possible explanations for Scots having poorer health than those from other ethnic backgrounds. One is that cultural factors such as smoking, drinking and poor diets could adversely affect the health of native Scots. Another potential explanation is that people who migrate long distances generally tend to have healthier lifestyles than those they leave behind in their native countries, sometimes known as the “healthy migrant effect”. 

Raj Bhopal, professor of public health at Edinburgh University who was involved in producing the report, said: “We need to improve the socio-economic circumstances of those with poorer health by alleviating problems such as unemployment and poor housing.

“We also need to raise awareness in order to improve people’s diets, discourage smoking and binge drinking, while also stopping the use of dangerous drugs such as heroin and amphetamine which are sometimes found in Scotland. Scotland as a nation is not talking about its health – the Scottish Government is trying to solve the problems but a discussion throughout the nation is needed.”

“Scotland as a nation is not talking about its health.” Raj Bhopal, professor of public health at Edinburgh University

A follow-up study is planned based on data from the most recent 2011 census. A change in 2012 means that upon registering a death in Scotland the ethnicity of the deceased must be noted for statistical purposes. Previously, only the place of birth was registered as opposed to the ethnicity, but because generations of immigrants have been born in the UK, this did not provide an accurate representation of ethnicity.

Bhopal cited the “healthy migrant effect” as being behind the improved health of those who had migrated long distances as they would be likely to have reasonable resources in order to afford to migrate such a distance. Contrasting this with the lower life expectancy of white Irish migrants, he noted that it was significantly more affordable to migrate to Scotland from Ireland than places such as Pakistan and China, meaning that this group was likely to face more difficult socio-economic circumstances similar to those faced by Scots with lower life expectancy.

A recent report published by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) backed up the view that the “migrant effect” can have a positive impact on public health and noted that due to it, ethnic diversity is a protective factor against higher mortality rates.

However, the life expectancy study noted that future trends could see the life expectancy of those from ethnic minorities begin to decline if they are to adapt to cultural unhealthy habits. Meanwhile, an American study published on the Public Library of Science noted that the process of acculturation meant that immigrants to the USA would adapt to culture over time and consequently their health would deteriorate.

David Walsh, public health programme manager at GCPH, agreed that socio-economic factors contribute to the lower life expectancy of the Scottish population and said more action needs to be taken.

“Rightwing politicians often argue that life choices are responsible for lower life expectancy, but research shows that these choices are governed by living conditions and socio-economic factors.” David Walsh, Glasgow Centre for Population Health

He said: “Rightwing politicians often argue that life choices are responsible for lower life expectancy, but research shows that these choices are governed by living conditions and socio-economic factors. If we narrow income inequalities then health inequalities could also narrow.”

He also alluded to the fact that migrants from ethnic minorities are less likely to indulge in binge drinking.

John Dickie, director of Child Poverty Action Group Scotland, said: “We know that poverty is a key driver of inequalities in life expectancy overall but clearly there are other factors that mitigate and shape the effect.”

Picture courtesy of Neil Moralee

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