Health inequalities

An Official Statistics Publication for Scotland.

Scotland’s Chief Statistician today announced the publication of the latest Long-term Monitoring of Health Inequalities: Headline Indicators report.

The gap in health outcomes between the most deprived and least deprived areas of Scotland is reported for a variety of indicators in absolute and relative terms, including healthy life expectancy, premature mortality, and a range of morbidity and mortality indicators relating to alcohol, cancer and coronary heart disease.

Main findings

With the exception of the Healthy Birthweight indicator, significant health inequalities persist for each indicator covered in the report.

In a number of indicators, absolute inequalities (the gap between the most and least deprived areas) have narrowed over the longer term:

  • Premature Mortality (under 75 years) - the gap has reduced by 15% from its peak in 2002, and is currently lower than at the start of the time series in 1997. The gap has, however, increased each year since 2013.
  • CHD (Coronary Heart Disease) Mortality - the gap has halved from its widest point in 1998.
  • Alcohol-Related Admissions - the gap has reduced by 32% since the start of the time series in 1996.
  • Low Birthweight – the gap has reduced by 30% since its peak in 2004. The bulk of this reduction had taken place by 2008, with the gap fluctuating since then.

The gap for Alcohol-Related Deaths is currently 28% lower than at its peak in 2002. However, following a period where the gap narrowed, it has been increasing since 2013, and is currently 13% higher than at the start of the time series in 1997.

For the other indicators in the report, there has either been little change or long term trends in the absolute gap are less clear:

  • Healthy Life Expectancy
  • Heart Attack Admissions
  • Cancer Incidence
  • Cancer Mortality
  • Premature Mortality (aged 15-44 years)
  • Healthy Birthweight

Relative inequalities

The relative index of inequality (RII) indicates the extent to which health outcomes are worse in the most deprived areas compared to the average throughout Scotland. It is possible for absolute inequalities to improve, but relative inequalities to worsen.

There are three morbidity indicators for which the RII can reasonably be compared with one another: alcohol-related hospital admissions; heart attack hospital admissions; and cancer incidence.

Amongst these, relative inequalities in alcohol-related hospital admissions have remained highest over the longer term. Relative inequalities in heart attack admissions have increased since 2008, and cancer incidence inequalities have remained relatively stable.

Amongst the three comparable mortality indicators (CHD deaths, alcohol-related deaths, and cancer deaths), relative inequalities in CHD mortality have increased over the long term.  The relative inequalities in alcohol-related deaths have shown more year to year fluctuation over the same period, but ultimately the RII for 2016 (1.89) is very similar to at the start of time series in 1997 (1.88).

The RII for cancer mortality has increased slightly over the longer term. However, inequalities remain wider in alcohol-related deaths and coronary heart disease deaths.

Of the other indicators in the report, the two indicators relating to premature mortality (under 75 and aged 15-44) have both shown increases in RII over time.


The full statistical publication is available at

A Ministerial Task Force on Health Inequalities was established in 2007 to identify and prioritise practical actions to reduce the most significant and widening health inequalities in Scotland.  A technical advisory group set up in 2008 recommended a range of indicators on health inequalities to be monitored over time, and most recently met in July 2015 to review the list of indicators and methods.  This publication updates those headline indicators.

Further information is available at:

Official statistics are produced in accordance with professional standards  – more information on the standards of official statistics in Scotland can be accessed at:


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