From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published May 30, 2012 08:44 AM

The Underlying Cause of Low Scottish Life Expectancy

When compared with life expectancy of other European nations and the UK as a whole, Scotland is significantly lower. It has diverged from the trend of most industrialized nations which have seen their societies become grayer and live longer. But how could this be? Some may say that it is due to the high rates of smoking, alcohol consumption, poverty, and poor diet. These sound like common factors that could affect life span, but why is it so bad in Scotland? According to a study led by the Dr. Gerry McCartney, consultant for the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland, the blame lies with the political direction of the past few decades.


A statistical analysis was conducted of Scottish life expectancy in 2011. It showed that men died 2.4 years earlier in Scotland than in the UK as a whole. Women lived 1.9 years less. Compared to the European country with the highest life expectancy, Sweden for men and France for women, Scottish men lived 3.6 years less and women lived 4.6 years less.

Over time, life expectancy has improved, most likely due to advances in medical care. However, the gap between Scottish and English life expectancy has widened in the past decade. England has the highest life expectancy in the UK.

The researchers found that no single factor could cause the higher mortality. Instead, the underlying cause may be attributable to the political direction of the country.

Their research showed that Scotland started to diverge from elsewhere in Europe between 1950 and 1980. This may be linked to higher deprivation caused by changes in manufacturing employment, housing and urban environments, social dynamics involving family and community, and negative health behavior cultures.

Since 1980, the higher mortality could be explained by looking at government decisions. These decisions can be linked to the consequent hopelessness and community disruption argue the authors. This type of environment may be conducive to the higher rates of smoking, drinking, unemployment, and other factors that can affect life expectancy.

"It is increasingly recognized that it is insufficient to try to explain health trends by simply looking at the proximal causes such as smoking or alcohol," said Dr Gerry McCartney who is also a member of the Scottish Socialist Party. "Income inequality, welfare policy and unemployment do not occur by accident, but as a product of the politics pursued by the government of the day. In this study we looked at the 'causes of the causes' of Scotland's health problems," said Dr Gerry McCartney, lead author of the study.

This study has been published in the journal, Public Health

For more information on life expectancy in Scotland, check out the General Register Office for Scotland

Drunken Scotsman image via Shutterstock

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