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Ethn Health. 1999 Nov;4(4):221-30.

Morbidity and Irish Catholic descent in Britain: relating health disadvantage to behaviour.

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  • 1MRC Medical Sociology Unit, University of Glasgow. joanne@msoc.mrc.gla.ac.uk

Abstract

OBJECTIVES:

This paper critically evaluates the evidence for two health-related stereotypes of the Irish, namely that behaviours such as smoking and heavy drinking explain their excess morbidity in Britain, and secondly that, in illness, this ethnic group behaves more stoically.

DESIGN:

Data are reported on over 850 respondents from each of three cohorts (aged 18, 39 and 58 in 1990/91) of the West of Scotland 20-07 Study, in which a small but pervasive excess of morbidity has been observed in those of Catholic background (in this area associated with Irish descent). Logistic regression was used to investigate any differences in drinking, smoking and participation in sport between those of Catholic and non-Catholic heritage, whilst controlling for sex and social class. Where a difference was observed, we looked for an association between health-related behaviour and the Catholic morbidity excess for six measures of physical and mental health. Finally, illness behaviour at age 39 and 58 was investigated for those experiencing one of a number of common symptoms in the month prior to interview, by noting whether a general medical practitioner (GP) was consulted.

RESULTS:

The only difference in health-related behaviour was in the eldest cohort, where an excess of smoking was observed for the Catholics. However, except for lung power, smoking was not able to explain very much, if any, of the Catholic morbidity disadvantage. For most of the symptoms studied, GP consultation rates were similar, although there was a tendency towards Catholic over-consulting.

CONCLUSION:

This paper finds minimal evidence in favour of either stereotype: behaviours such as smoking and excess drinking were not strongly associated with the poor morbidity status of the Irish in the population we have studied; neither have the Irish been found to be more stoic in illness. Therefore the stereotypes are not an adequate explanation, nor a necessary correlate, of the frequent finding of raised morbidity in communities of Irish Catholic origin.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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