Geneva: Scots have the lowest life expectancy in Europe, according to figures published by the World Health Organisation. The Japanese have the greatest longevity in the world, while Swaziland and South Africa the shortest. In Europe Italians live longer than anyone else and the UK has the third lowest life expectancy in the region.
The statistics also reveal that people in some developing countries such as Costa Rica, Chile and Cuba can expect to live longer than in Scotland.
Here the average life expectancy for men is 73.8 years and 79 years for women, falling to 69.3 years and 76.4 years respectively for people living in Glasgow, which has the worst mortality rate in Britain.
Premature deaths are more common in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK and much more common than in Italy, Australia, Israel and Canada, where men can expect to live to the age of 78 and women to between 82 and 84.
Public health experts said that the gap between Scotland and similar developed nations was alarming. They blamed the countrys poor diet high in fat, salt and sugar as well as heavy drinking and smoking. Scotland has struggled to shake off its sick man of Europe image.
Although rates of cancer and heart disease have improved, they remain among the highest in the Continent. Obesity, alcohol related illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases and some mental health problems are also becoming more prevalent.
Experts have pointed to the so-called Scottish effect, an in-built sense of fatalism characterised by television characters such as the Rev I M Jolly and Victor Meldrew, which makes Scots drink and smoke more heavily and eat unhealthy food.
If you look back to between the wars, when we were still an industrial economy with serious ill health and pollution, our rank position in Europe was much higher than it is today, said Phil Hanlon, professor of public health at Glasgow University. Life expectancy has improved in all European countries since then but our relative position has declined. We are healthier and living longer but the rest of Europe has outstripped us.
Twenty years ago, if you compared England and Scotland, the difference could be explained almost entirely by greater deprivation north of the border. But not any longer.
We have to look at health related behaviour our smoking, diet and drinking and issues such as Scottish confidence, fatalism and the like. The Scottish executive is correct to say that our health is improving, but our relative position continues to decline.
Raj Bhopal, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, added: The situation is that Scotland has been deteriorating over the past 80 years because the country has taken its eye off the ball. It has developed a deeply engrained culture which extols smoking, drinking and failing to take exercise.
Scotland has been a leading light in understanding the causes of ill health and preventing disease but we cant seem to implement our recommendations here while they are being applied across the world.
Dr Charles Saunders, chairman of the British Medical Associations public health committee in Scotland, said he believed that the ban on smoking in public places, due to be introduced in March, would raise life expectancy.
It will be one of the major advances of the health of the public in Scotland it will reduce the amount that people smoke and reduce the number of people who smoke, which will make quite a significant difference to life expectancy over the years, he said.