People who live in the most deprived areas of Scotland are four times more likely to die prematurely than those in the most wealthy.
The latest figures revealing the extent of health inequality showed 20,980 people in Scotland died before the age of 75 last year, lower than at any time in the past 20 years.
Official statistics show the gap between people dying from cancer, coronary heart disease and alcohol-related deaths in the least and most deprived areas has increased by 10 per cent.
The inequality gap for deaths involving alcohol has risen in each of the past five years but is still 30 per cent lower than its 2002 peak.
The latest Long-term Monitoring of Health Inequalities report from Scotland’s chief statistician found while relative inequalities for heart attack admissions decreased in the last year, the alcohol-related hospital admissions gap remained highest.
Such incidents were five times more common in the most deprived areas of Scotland.
The cancer mortality rate among those aged between 45 and 74 has fallen more than 31 per cent since 1996 and the number of deaths each year has also reduced in this period, from approximately 8,400 to 7,300.
Yet, of people in that age group, those in Scotland’s most deprived areas are
more than twice as likely to die of cancer than those in the least deprived areas.
In 1997, premature mortality rates - dying before the age of 75 - were three times higher in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived while in the last three years premature mortality rates have been four times higher in the most deprived areas.
Between 1997 and 2017, premature mortality rates declined by 43 per cent in the least deprived areas but by only 21 per cent in the most deprived areas in Scotland.
There were a total of 2,068 deaths of people aged 15-44 in Scotland in 2017,
compared with the peak of 2,566 in 2002.
The deaths in 2017 included 305 probable suicides, 581 drug-related deaths and 40 deaths from assault.
While the rates of probable suicide in this age group have generally declined in recent years, drug-related deaths have increased since 1997.
Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Tackling the inequalities in health that the most deprived and vulnerable in our society experience is one of the most important challenges we face as a country.
“We have made significant progress in a number of areas such as healthy birth weight, alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths from heart disease.
“But, as today’s report shows, there remain entrenched and stubborn issues that we must address.
“That is why we are taking decisive action on matters such as alcohol, smoking, physical activity and healthy eating.
“However, health inequalities are very much a symptom of wider income inequality.
“The Scottish Government is taking action to end poverty, drive fair wages, support families, invest in affordable housing and ensure fair access to healthcare through policies such as free prescriptions, concessionary travel and free personal care.
“This year we will spend £125 million to mitigate the devastating impacts of the UK Government’s welfare policies on our most vulnerable people.