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Recent adverse mortality trends in Scotland: comparison with other high-income countries
  1. Lynda Fenton1,2,
  2. Jon Minton1,
  3. Julie Ramsay3,
  4. Maria Kaye-Bardgett3,
  5. Colin Fischbacher4,
  6. Grant M A Wyper1,
  7. Gerry McCartney1
  1. 1 Public Health Observatory, NHS Health Scotland, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2 Public Health, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3 National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
  4. 4 Information Services Division, NHS National Services Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lynda Fenton; lynda.fenton{at}


Objective Gains in life expectancy have faltered in several high-income countries in recent years. Scotland has consistently had a lower life expectancy than many other high-income countries over the past 70 years. We aim to compare life expectancy trends in Scotland to those seen internationally and to assess the timing and importance of any recent changes in mortality trends for Scotland.

Setting Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England and Wales, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and USA.

Methods We used life expectancy data from the Human Mortality Database (HMD) to calculate the mean annual life expectancy change for 24 high-income countries over 5-year periods from 1992 to 2016. Linear regression was used to assess the association between life expectancy in 2011 and mean life expectancy change over the subsequent 5 years. One-break and two-break segmented regression models were used to test the timing of mortality rate changes in Scotland between 1990 and 2018.

Results Mean improvements in life expectancy in 2012–2016 were smallest among women (<2 weeks/year) in Northern Ireland, Iceland, England and Wales, and the USA and among men (<5 weeks/year) in Iceland, USA, England and Wales, and Scotland. Japan, Korea and countries of Eastern Europe had substantial gains in life expectancy over the same period. The best estimate of when mortality rates changed to a slower rate of improvement in Scotland was the year to 2012 quarter 4 for men and the year to 2014 quarter 2 for women.

Conclusions Life expectancy improvement has stalled across many, but not all, high-income countries. The recent change in the mortality trend in Scotland occurred within the period 2012–2014. Further research is required to understand these trends, but governments must also take timely action on plausible contributors.

  • epidemiology
  • public health
  • statistics & research methods

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  • Contributors LF and GM: conceived the idea for this study. LF and JM: undertook the analyses. JR and MK-B: provided data for the segmented regression analysis. GM: drafted the manuscript. CF and GMAW: along with all other authors made substantial contributions to the interpretation of results and editing the manuscript, and all approved the final draft.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval No new data were collected in this study and there was no public or patient involvement. We used mortality data made available to us by National Records of Scotland and adhered to our standard procedures to protect against disclosure.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data are available upon reasonable request.

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