“While life expectancy in Scotland has increased for the past three decades, there has been no change over the last few years.” The Registrar General’s report on the changes to Scotland’s population is packed full of facts and figures, but the number of years of life we can all expect is surely the most personal, even if it is an estimated average.
So the news that Scotland’s average life expectancy has stopped rising – while it continues to increase in other European countries – will surely be a concern. Girls born in Scotland between 2014 and 2016 can expect to live for 81.2 years, while their male counterparts can look forward to 77.1 years. These figures have risen by nearly six years for women since the early 1980s and eight years for men. However, the report notes that “over the past few years there has been a slowing in the rate of increase, and there has been virtually no change in either male or female life expectancy... since 2012-2014”.
The decade of austerity since 2008 may provide a partial explanation of the figures. But our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and fondness for sugar, fat and salt – a habit exploited ruthlessly by the manufacturers and sellers of processed food – are also likely to play a part.
According to the Registrar General’s report, the lowest life expectancy is for men living in Glasgow City, at about 73 years, compared with the highest, in Orkney, of about 80. But Glasgow’s figure masks starker divides at a more local level. Life expectancy for men in the city’s most deprived areas is in the mid-50s. And it is this figure which should act as a call to action, rather than the national average.
No one born in Scotland, one of the richest countries in the world, should face a life almost predestined to be blighted by ill-health and cut short in middle-age because of the financial circumstances of their parents. Government is unlikely to be able to provide all the answers, but it must provide leadership as collectively as a society we strive to ensure everyone in Scotland has a fighting chance of a long and happy life.