Babies born in Glasgow are expected to live the shortest lives of any in Britain. One in four Glaswegian men won’t reach their 65th birthday. What is behind the “Glasgow Effect” and can it be prevented?

The pool is full on Sunday afternoon in the Glasgow suburb of Easterhouse. Children are splashing around and shooting down water slides while a man with heavily tattooed arms swims a rhythmic front crawl up and down one of the lanes.

It is a picture of vigour and health in the city, which is hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games this summer.

Glasgow is internationally renowned for its thriving arts scene and top universities. It boasts handsome Victorian architecture, smart designer shops, fashionable bars and restaurants.

At the same time, this dynamic city also has an unenviable reputation for poor health. Obesity rates are among the highest in the world. Research conducted in 2007 found that nearly one in five potential workers was on incapacity benefit and that Glasgow has a much larger number and a higher proportion of the population claiming sickness-related benefit than any other city in Britain.

What is worse, the city has an alarmingly high mortality rate. A 2011 study compared it with Liverpool and Manchester, which have roughly equal levels of unemployment, deprivation and inequality. It found that residents of Glasgow are about 30% more likely to die young, and 60% of those excess deaths are triggered by just four things – drugs, alcohol, suicide and violence.

Moreover the Glasgow Effect is relatively new. “These causes of death have emerged really since the 1990s,” says Harry Burns, professor of public health at Strathclyde University. “And they emerged more dramatically in one particular sector of the population – men and women between the ages of 15 and 45. So it’s a very specific pattern affecting people in their most productive years.”

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