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New analysis of health behaviours by ethnicity published by NHS Digital

New analysis of health behaviours and conditions across ethnic groups in England has been published by NHS Digital today.

The report presents findings from Health Survey for England (HSE)1data collected between 2011 and 2019, analysed by ethnicity2. The analysis was conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and University College London (UCL).  

Information from 73,9473 adults living in England on longstanding health conditions, wellbeing, obesity, smoking and drinking alcohol is included.  

The below information is based on age-standardised statistics4. Age-standardisation accounts for differences in age profiles between groups and is important when comparing health across groups as health conditions and behaviours can vary with age.  

Drinking alcohol  

Those most likely to report drinking alcohol in the last 12 months were from white backgrounds. White British men (91%) and women (86%) and white Irish men (90%) and women (88%) reported drinking alcohol in the last year.  

The groups least likely to report drinking alcohol in the last year were Pakistani men (9%) and women (2%) and Bangladeshi men (13%) and women (8%).  

Drinking above recommended levels (14 or more units5 a week) was most common among white Irish men (45%) and women (26%) and was also high among white British men (36%) and women (18%).  


Those least likely to be regular smokers were men from black African (9%), Indian (12%) and Chinese (12%) backgrounds. Indian (2%), Pakistani (3%), Chinese (3%) and black African (4%) women were least likely to be regular smokers.  


Chinese women (22%) and men (36%) were least likely to be overweight or obese6. Women from black Caribbean (74%), Pakistani (74%) and black African (73%) backgrounds were most likely to be overweight or obese. The proportions of men from other backgrounds who were overweight or obese did not vary greatly. 

Longstanding health conditions  

Longstanding health conditions7 (conditions likely to last 12 months or more) were most common among black Caribbean (45%) and white British men (40%).  

Among women, those of Pakistani background (49%) were most likely to have a longstanding health condition. Chinese women (19%) were least likely.  


Wellbeing is measured on a scale ranging from 14 for the lowest possible wellbeing to 70 for the highest possible wellbeing. The highest average (mean) mental wellbeing scores8 were reported by black African men (55.4) and women (55.1).  

Read the full report

Health Survey England Additional Analyses, Ethnicity and Health, 2011-2019 Experimental statistics 

Notes for editors

  1. The Health Survey for England (HSE) is a series of annual surveys and the 2019 survey is the 29th. The surveys provide regular information that cannot be obtained from other sources about the public’s health and associated factors. The HSE has been designed and carried out since 1994 by the Joint Health Surveys Unit of the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and the Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London (UCL).  

  2. Participants within the HSE define their own ethnicity based on the 2011 ONS Census categories. These are the eleven groups used for analysis within this report: white British, white Irish, Other white backgrounds (including Gypsy or Irish Traveller), Mixed and multiple backgrounds (including white and black Caribbean, white and black African, white and Asian, and any other mixed or multiple backgrounds), Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, black African, black Caribbean, Other backgrounds (including any other Asian background, any other black background, Arab, and any other ethnic group). 

  3. The findings in this report are based on data combined from the HSE between 2011 and 2019 from adults aged 16 and over. The combined sample is 73,947 men and women. The majority (79%) classified themselves as white British. The profile of the sample by ethnicity, age, household income, area deprivation and whether they live in urban or rural areas is described in the report.   

  4. Age-standardisation takes into account differences in age profiles between groups and is important when comparing health across groups, because the prevalence of many health conditions and related behaviours vary markedly with age. The age profile of the different ethnic groups varies considerably, for example, some ethnic groups had higher proportions of young people. Age standardisation was carried out using the age groups 16-34, 35-54, 55 and over and done separately for men and women. Three broad age groups were used due to small numbers within some ethnic groups.  

  5. One unit of alcohol is 10ml by volume of pure alcohol.

  6. BMI is a widely accepted measure of overweight and obesity that takes both height and weight into account. BMI is defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in metres squared (kg/m2). This has been used as a measure of overweight and obesity in the HSE series. The phrase “overweight or obese” in the report is equivalent to "overweight, including obese” in the tables. 

  7. Longstanding conditions are those lasting or expected to last 12 months or more, and include physical and mental health conditions. Conditions that reduce a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities are described as limiting longstanding conditions. The most commonly reported longstanding health conditions include: musculoskeletal conditions, heart and circulatory conditions, endocrine and other metabolic conditions, including diabetes, respiratory conditions and mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental conditions. 

  8. Wellbeing in the Health Survey for England (HSE) is measured using the 14-item Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS). This comprises 14 statements which cover different aspects of wellbeing expressed positively – for example, ‘I've been feeling optimistic about the future’.  Participants are asked to choose the answer that best describes their experience over the previous two weeks: ‘None of the time’, ‘Rarely’, ‘Some of the time’, ‘Often’, or ‘All of the time’ and this scale is scored from 1 to 5. The total Wellbeing score can range from 14 to 70. 

  9. Ethnic groups vary in their socio-economic and demographic composition. Individuals’ health and related behaviours vary with their circumstances and across their life course. These differences may contribute to differences between ethnic groups in the health aspects covered by this report.  

Last edited: 30 June 2022 10:49 am