Health experts act on findings of Scotland's largest health study

Issued: Thu, 24 Nov 2005 00:00:00 GMT

Scotland's leading health experts will come together in Glasgow on Friday 25 November to act on the findings of the largest long term health study ever carried out in a working class area of the UK ヨ the MIDSPAN studies.

Hosted by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, this meeting "Celebrating 30 years of MIDSPAN" focuses on invaluable data collected from thousands of Scots on areas including alcohol, blood pressure, cancer, coronary heart disease, obesity, smoking, social class and stress.

Dr Carol Tannahill, Director of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health said: "In west central Scotland we face huge health challenges, and we will require all of the intelligence, expertise and commitment we can muster to turn things around. The Glasgow Centre for Population Health is working to bring people together to develop ways to improve things in the future. The very rich set of findings from 30 years of MIDSPAN have some clear implications for policy and practice, and reinforce the fact that health is not only about individuals. Health experiences cross generations, and affect those around us too." Graham Watt, Professor of General Practice at Glasgow University and chair of the MIDSPAN Steering Committee, said: "MIDSPAN confirms the importance of smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol as causes of coronary heart disease, but these factors only partly explained the high mortality rates in the west of Scotland. Another important explanation was lung function, as measured by the ability to blow hard into a tube (like blowing out candles on a cake). Reduced ability to do that was the most powerful predictor of premature mortality."

MIDSPAN was one of the first studies to show that passive smoking casts a long shadow. Increased cough, chest pain, lung cancer and heart disease deaths were experienced by passive smokers. The non-smoking offspring of smokers were found to have reduced lung function. The studies also emphasise the importance of a good childhood environment in determining future adult health, for example by allowing healthy growth, as manifest by adult height and lung capacity.

The MIDSPAN studies have only been possible thanks to the participation of over 23,000 people local to the West of Scotland. In recognition of their participation, a related public meeting, open to all, will take place in Paisley Town hall on Saturday 26 November hosted by Renfrewshire Council and chaired by Professor Phil Hanlon of the University of Glasgow.

Valerie Millar (

1. ?Celebrating 30 years of MIDSPAN? takes place in the Teacher Building, St Enoch Square from 10am until 4:30pm on Friday 25 November 2005.

2. MIDSPAN is the name used for the large occupational and general population health surveys founded in the 1960s and 70s by Prof Victor Hawthorne - a Scot who began his career in Glasgow and is now Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The MIDSPAN studies are centred at the University of Glasgow. See for more information.

3. The Glasgow Centre for Population Health ( is a research and development organisation set up in 2004 as part of the Scottish Executive?s programme to step up health improvement in Scotland. The Centre is a partnership between NHS Greater Glasgow, Glasgow City Council and the University of Glasgow, supported by the Scottish Executive.

4. A list of current MIDSPAN collaborators is available at and includes:
Dr Peter Brindle, University of Bristol
Prof George Davey-Smith, University of Bristol / University of Glasgow
Professor Ian Deary, University of Edinburgh
Prof Anna F Dominiczak, University of Glasgow
Prof Victor Hawthorne, Prof Emeritus of Epidemiology, University of Michigan
Prof David Hole, University of Glasgow
Dr Kate Hunt, University of Glasgow.

5. Attending the event ?Celebrating 30 years of MIDSPAN? is an invited audience of Scottish experts in health research, health promotion, public health and health policy, including:
Prof Sir John Arbuthnott, Chair, NHS Greater Glasgow
Evelyn Borland, Head of Planning and Health Improvement, North Glasgow Community Health Partnership
Dr Linda de Caestecker, Acting Director of Public Health, NHS Greater Glasgow
Prof Peter Donnelly, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Scottish Executive
Terry Findlay, Director, West Glasgow Community Health Partnership
Prof Phil Hanlon, University of Glasgow
Prof Margaret Reid, University of Glasgow

6. 20 key messages from the MIDSPAN studies:
? The MIDSPAN studies, based in Renfrew, Paisley and workplaces in the West of Scotland, are the largest, long term, health studies ever carried out in a predominantly working class area in the UK, and the first such study to include women.
? 31% of men and 18% of women died before their 70th birthday
? 79% of people were admitted to hospital at least once. For those who died, 55% of all the days they spent in hospital occurred in the twelve months before death.
? The strongest predictor of a long life was a healthy pair of lungs, as measured by the ability to blow hard into a tube (similar to blowing out candles on a cake)
? Lung function was decreased by smoking, air pollution and poor circumstances in childhood
? MIDSPAN was one of the first studies to demonstrate the harmful effects of passive smoking, by studying the health of non-smokers living with a smoker.
? Passive smoking cast a long shadow, not only in terms of increased cough, chest pain, lung cancer and heart disease deaths in non-smokers, but also by the reduced lung function of the non-smoking offspring of parents who smoked.
? These results are important and timely, now that the home environment is set to become the main location of passive smoking in Scotland.
? Obesity and smoking is a dangerous combination, as obese smokers were three times as likely to die before the age of 70 as non-smokers with normal weight.
? Adverse socio-economic circumstances throughout life (as measured by childhood and adult social class), plus smoking and drinking in adult life explained about two thirds of the population burden of cardiovascular disease mortality in the west of Scotland.
? Tall people lived longer and had reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and respiratory death. Leg length, which is influenced by nutrition before puberty, was the component of height most strongly associated with disease risk
? Coronary heart mortality rates were high, in comparison with other large population studies, but deaths in deprived areas were more difficult to predict, using current Scottish guidelines. The guidelines need revision, so that risk prediction is more effective in deprived areas, and so that more people benefit from CHD prevention.
? CHD risk-mortality relationships were similar in men and women, with women having coronary events about 15 years later
? Although coronary heart disease killed a quarter of women in the study, women tended not to feature when people talked about their understanding of coronary heart disease.
? Health promotion is also likely to be made more difficult, by public perceptions that coronary heart disease ?is a good way to go?
? Drinkers of more than 35 units per week had double the risk of stroke mortality, compared with non-drinkers.
? Lung cancer mortality rates were higher in men in manual than in middle class occupations, for comparable levels of smoking ? the difference being largely explained by poor lung health, deprivation and poor socio-economic circumstances throughout life.
? Rates of smoking, cough and wheeze were 50% lower in sons and daughters, than in mothers and fathers at the same age
? Asthma is twice was common and atopic eczema three times as common in sons and daughters as in mothers and fathers.
? Obesity affects about one in five adult sons and daughters, and was twice as common in sons as in fathers at the same age. <

7. The MIDSPAN logo and photographs of Dr Carol Tannahill, Prof Graham Watt and Prof Victor Hawthorne are available at

8. To speak to Dr Carol Tannahill or Prof Graham Watt, contact Valerie Millar (details below).

Issued by: The Glasgow Centre for Population Health
Contact: Valerie Millar, Communications Manager
Tel: 0141 221 9439 ; Mobile: 07812 205 246