This site is intended for health professionals only

New ONS data gives false impression of health inequalities facing ethnic minority groups

New ONS data gives false impression of health inequalities facing ethnic minority groups
By Jess Hacker
29 July 2021

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which found that ethnic minority groups had higher life expectancy than the white population ‘bely a complex picture’ of disproportionate causes of death, the King’s Fund has said.

The data set, which was published earlier this week (26 July), suggested that people in white and mixed ethnic groups had lower life expectancy at birth than all other ethnic groups between 2011 and 2014 in England and Wales.

It showed that the average life expectancy was 83.1 and 79.7 years for white women and men, compared to 88.9 83.8 years for black African women and men: a group which had ‘statistically significant higher life expectancy than most groups’.

Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, said that the findings ‘may come as a surprise to many’ but that they ‘are consistent with most other evidence’, adding however that there are ‘caveats’ to these results.

‘These results should not make for complacency,’ she said. ‘The headline life expectancy figures bely a complex picture of different ethnic groups being disproportionately affected by different causes of death.’

For example, white groups had the highest death rates from cancer, but in contrast South Asian and Black ethnic groups has significantly higher death rates from diabetes and some cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, the results – based on data from 2011 to 2014 – predate the Covid-19 pandemic, throughout which ‘ethnic minority groups suffered a disproportionate number of deaths’, she said.

The pandemic ‘reversed the previous picture’ for some ethnic minority groups who now have higher overall mortality, she said.

Ms Raleigh added that it is ‘vitally important’ that the Government make ethnicity coding mandatory on all death records to make progress in reducing health inequalities.

Previous ONS data indicated that the death rate was highest for the black African men and women during the first wave at 3.7 times for men and 2.6 times for women.

Meanwhile, Julie Stanborough, deputy director of health analysis and life events at the ONS, outlined the Office’s intention to conduct further analysis.

‘Further research is required to investigate the reasons for the differences. However, these results reveal important patterns in life expectancy and mortality by ethnic groups which are complex, but nevertheless consistent with most previous studies,’ she said.

The ONS said that potential explanations behind the differences could include past migration patterns, socioeconomic composition of the groups, health-related behaviours, and clinical factors.

Want news like this straight to your inbox?

Related articles