College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Quarter of pregnant white Scots smoke

White Scottish women are more likely to smoke during pregnancy than expectant mums from other ethnic groups, a study has found.

They also have the highest rates of premature births of all white mothers living in Scotland and are least likely to breastfeed after their babies are born.

Health inequalities

The findings are only partly explained by differences in social status, such as level of education, the researchers say.

The team hopes that their findings will help them understand why there are variations in overall health and risk of diseases between different ethnic groups in Scotland.

Our findings are particularly concerning given that we have recently shown that white Scots have a higher unexplained risk of mental illness, cancer and cardiovascular disease compared to other white groups living in Scotland. As many of these diseases are linked to factors in early life, we need urgent action to improve social circumstances for Scottish girls and women - before, during and after pregnancy - to ensure a healthy future for all our children.
Dr Narinder BansalHonorary Fellow and Global Health Academy Fellow, School of Molecular, Genetic and Population Health Sciences

Lifestyle choices

The study, led by the University of Edinburgh, looked at census and health data on mums around Scotland and compared their pregnancy outcomes by ethnic group.

Researchers found that a quarter of white Scottish women smoked during pregnancy compared with around 15 percent of white mothers of other nationalities living in Scotland.

Indian, Pakistani and Chinese mums living in Scotland had the lowest rates of smoking during pregnancy at less than seven per cent.

Early births

Premature births were more common in white Scottish mums than most other ethnic groups. However Pakistani mums had the highest rate of early delivery, with around one in 12 babies born before the due date.

Low birthweight

Overall, babies born to mothers from minority ethnic groups had the lowest birthweights despite their mums making healthier lifestyle choices during and after pregnancy, according to the study.

The findings are important because low birth weight can be an indicator of poor health in later life and has been linked to conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Understanding the factors that contribute to differences in birthweights could help to explain why these diseases are more common among certain ethnic groups, the researchers say.

The study is published in the European Journal of Public Health.

Scotland has one of the poorest health records in Europe. It is vital that we take steps to reduce smoking during pregnancy and improve social circumstances for all Scottish mothers if we are to redress this imbalance.
Raj BhopalBruce and John Usher Professor of Public Health, Centre for Population Health Sciences