This website is now part of Public Health Scotland. Publications released after 16 March 2020 are now published on the Public Health Scotland website.
Improving health
Previously NHS Health Scotland

There are significant inequalities between ethnic groups in Scotland when it comes to health needs and outcomes.

You will find resources and data around ethnic and migrant health below.

‘Migrant’ covers anyone who comes to Scotland from outside the UK, including refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants.

At the time of the last census,

  • the minority ethnic population comprised 16% of the population
  • the black and minority ethnic population was 4% of the population.

The census found that

  • Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland reported the worst health
  • most ethnic groups in Scotland reported better health than people who identify as white Scottish
  • older Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian women reported worse health than older men in these ethnic groups
  • people who identify as white Polish aged under 65 reported relatively good health, whereas those aged 65 or over reported relatively poor health.

You can read more data on ethnic and migrant health on the Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) website (external).

Ethnic and migrant health inequalities

Scottish data suggest that minority ethnic groups, with some exceptions such as Gypsy/Travellers, have better general health than the majority of the white population. These differences can vary by disease and ethnic group.

  • Obesity prevalence varies substantially between ethnic groups.
  • There is greater prevalence of sickle cell disease in African origin groups.
  • The minority ethnic population shows lower age adjusted all-cause mortality and hospitalisation rates.
  • There is a greater prevalence of cardiovascular conditions and diabetes in South Asian origin populations.
  • Mortality in Scotland is higher in the majority ethnic (white) population than in the black and minority ethnic population.

National and local action

The main effort to improve health should be focused on the unhealthiest group, which is the indigenous white Scottish population, with effort targeted at people within the group who are income and employment deprived.

However there is also scope for ethnically targeted obesity and diabetes prevention strategies, and for better treatment in Scotland for genetically influenced conditions experienced by certain ethnic groups, for example sickle cell disease in African origin groups.

The Scottish Migrant and Ethnic Health Research Strategy (SMEHRS) group provides strategic direction for Scottish research in this area. We host this multi-disciplinary and multi-agency group which aims to

  • help carry out the priorities and recommendations of our report 'Health in our Multi-ethnic Scotland - Future research priorities'
  • review and revise these research priorities and recommendations when circumstances and experience change
  • report each year to the Scottish Government on
    • progress against these priorities and recommendations 
    • other strategic issues relevant to research on ethnicity and health in Scotland
  • give a strategic focus for researchers working in this field in Scotland
  • maintain awareness of current research and research-related issues relevant to health and ethnicity. 

Information Services Division (ISD) Scotland provides twice yearly reports on recording ethnic groups in hospital records (external website) to improve equality and diversity monitoring.

You may be interested in the migrant health action resources (external website) for Scotland on the Scottish Public Health Network (ScotPHN) site. This includes our paper on terms and definitions used in the UK in relation to migrants.

You can contact us to find out more about our work on migrant and ethnic health.