COVID-19 has caused almost unprecedented change across health, education, the economy and social interaction. It is widely understood that the existing mechanisms which shape health inequalities have resulted in COVID-19 outcomes following this same, familiar, pattern. Our aim was to estimate inequalities in the population health impact of COVID-19 in Scotland, measured by disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in 2020. Our secondary aim was to scale overall, and inequalities in, COVID-19 DALYs against the level of pre-pandemic inequalities in all-cause DALYs, derived from the Scottish Burden of Disease (SBoD) study.


National deaths and daily case data were input into the European Burden of Disease Network consensus model to estimate DALYs. Total Years of Life Lost (YLL) were estimated for each area-based deprivation quintile of the Scottish population. Years Lived with Disability were proportionately distributed to deprivation quintiles, based on YLL estimates. Inequalities were measured by: the range, Relative Index of Inequality (RII), Slope Index of Inequality (SII), and attributable DALYs were estimated by using the least deprived quintile as a reference.


Marked inequalities were observed across several measures. The SII range was 2048 to 2289 COVID-19 DALYs per 100,000 population. The rate in the most deprived areas was around 58% higher than the mean population rate (RII = 1.16), with 40% of COVID-19 DALYs attributed to differences in area-based deprivation. Overall DALYs due to COVID-19 ranged from 7 to 20% of the annual pre-pandemic impact of inequalities in health loss combined across all causes.


The substantial population health impact of COVID-19 in Scotland was not shared equally across areas experiencing different levels of deprivation. The extent of inequality due to COVID-19 was similar to averting all annual DALYs due to diabetes. In the wider context of population health loss, overall ill-health and mortality due to COVID-19 was, at most, a fifth of the annual population health loss due to inequalities in multiple deprivation. Implementing effective policy interventions to reduce health inequalities must be at the forefront of plans to recover and improve population health.


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Cite as

Wyper, G., Fletcher, E., Grant, I., Harding, O., de Haro Moro, M., Stockton, D. & McCartney, G. 2021, 'Inequalities in population health loss by multiple deprivation: COVID-19 and pre-pandemic all-cause disability adjusted life years (DALYs) in Scotland', International Journal for Equity in Health, 20, article no: 214. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-021-01547-7

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Last updated: 29 October 2022
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