Much has been made of Dundee lecturer Ellie Harrison’s Art Project the “Glasgow Effect”, in which Harrison after being given a £15,000 pounds grant by Creative Scotland, vowed to work and live within the Greater Glasgow area for an entire year.

Promoting self sustainability, a web page explaining the project stated, “The Glasgow Effect is a year long action research project/ durational performance, for which Ellie Harrison will not travel outside Greater Glasgow for a whole year (except in the event of the ill health/death of a close relative or friend).”

Glasgow Effect

At GlasgowLiving we’re not here to promote or demote the legitimacy of an art project, but it seems that some of the negativity surrounding the project is extreme. Especially considering the year long art project has barely begun.

Answer this question, would any of the people who were quick to criticise the project, reject Creative Scotland, if they came knocking on their door with a similar offer? Probably not.

Something we couldn’t help but notice during the verbal free for all, in the days following the announcement was a severe lack of discussion about a similarly titled study, with (in our opinion) far more far reaching gravitas…The study of the genuine “Glasgow Effect”.

For anyone unbeknown to the subject, Ellie Harrison, wasn’t the first person the coin the term “The Glasgow Effect”, that moniker befell Michael Marmot of the World Health Organisation, however the original study was not about “self sustainability in the city” and did not offer grants, instead the study questioned why Glasgow’s population seems to die at an earlier age than any other identical de-industrialised city in the UK.

The Economist referred to it as a malign vapour that rises from the Clyde and settles in the lungs of sleeping Glaswegians. It is also commonly known as “The Glasgow Effect”.glasgow effect2

In 2010, two years after an earlier study had highlighted some pretty grim statistics surrounding the health inequalities of Glasgow’s citizens. The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a study suggesting there was more to Glasgow’s health problems than simply social deprivation and poor diets.

The WHO revealed that equally deprived cities in the UK did not face the same health crisis as Glaswegians. The study found people living in Calton had lower life expectancy (54 years) and poorer health than people living in equally deprived areas of other cities in the UK.


Michael Marmot, one of the authors of the WHO’s study, coined the discovery “The Glasgow Effect”.

In comparison to other de-industrialised cities in the UK (Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham etc), premature deaths in Glasgow were found to be almost 30% per cent higher than anywhere else.

Sir Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer in 2010 said while speaking to the World Health Organization that Glasgow’s health issues seemed to extend further than physical issues, it was surmised that Glasgow’s sociological issues could also be psychological.

He said “They are a psycho-social problem that will not be fixed by targeting conventional risk behaviours alone. The answers lie in repairing a fragmented society where many people feel they do not have control of their lives.”

Sir Harry Burns
Sir Harry Burns

This suggests that excessive stress and worry can take the form of physical illness. The term for this condition is known as somatisation, and disorders of this kind usually take the form of long term illness, whilst also resulting in increased evidence of anxiety or depression.

The NHS carried out studies and recorded hundreds of incidents relating to the disorder.

In 2004 the Glasgow Centre for Population and Health (GCPH) found that chronically activated stress responses, especially in children, affects the structure of the frontal lobe of the brain, which can result in a physical reaction to stress.

It’s not difficult to imagine that repetitive stress and an unsettled housing environment every day of a developing child’s life would result in untold long term damage. Statistically 33% per cent of all work place absences are stress related, if stress can affect adults in this way, then consider what long term damage it must do to an impressionable child.

Oliver Gillie, a respected geneticist, ex medical correspondent for The Sunday Times and medical editor for The Independent reported in the book “Scotland’s Health Deficit” that Glasgow receives 50% per cent less UV rays than the rest of the UK, because of its “high latitude and persistent low cloud cover”, resulting in Glaswegians Vitamin D levels being at a lower rate than almost everywhere else in the UK.

lack of vitamin d
Lack of Vitamin D can be harmful to people

Normally, people can expect to receive 90% per cent of their Vitamin D from the sun, but what happens in Glasgow when there is less sun in the sky and less of a prolonged summer season? Oliver Gillie says that “insufficient Vitamin D increases the risk of several chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and arthritis, as well as bone disease and fractures.”

For example the Orkney Islands which suffers from one of the lowest amounts of sunlight in Britain, has officially the highest number of people suffering from MS in the world. Considering 30 people per 100,000 is deemed high risk, the fact that Orkney suffers from 402 per 100,000 is shocking.

With Orkney considered the best standard of living of anywhere in Scotland, how would a similar level of Vitamin D deficiency affect people growing up in a house of unemployment, poor diet, poor education, unstable atmosphere and a lack of future opportunity?

It’s not all doom and gloom however, according to the Office for National Statistics the number of young people in full time education aged between 16 and 24 has doubled in the last 30 years. In the year 2000 16% per cent of school leavers headed for higher education and as of 2013 the number had risen to 31.4% per cent.

Although Glaswegians are known for “liking a good drink” the actual number of drink related deaths in Scotland has dropped by 34% per cent since 2004. A huge comparison to every other country in the UK, whom all showed no drop whatsoever.

Glasgow is well known for having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol

Experts believe this is because of better education, stronger focus on health but also because of the recession, less promotion on multi buy deals and more control over advertising.

Harry Burns Chief Medical Officer explained to the World Health Organisation that life has improved greatly for many Glaswegians over the past thirty years but with the increase in alcohol related deaths between the 90’s and 00’s other factors had to be taken to account.

He stated. “Many parts of Glasgow has suffered loss of jobs which have never been replaced, and the social capital has been degraded.” He refers to communities where one household could have suffered four generations of unemployment, as a result of the dismantling of the city’s industrial base in the 70’s.

de industrial
Many of Glasgow’s jobs lost to de-industrialisation have never been replaced

Glasgow in the last few years has seen a definite turnaround in positivity in the last few years, with the Commonwealth Games, Swimming Championships, Gymnastic Championships, amongst others and the most recent announcement of Glasgow and Berlin co-hosting the inaugural European Championships in 2018, perhaps promoting positive Glasgow and diminishing down negative Glasgow is a way to undo the damage of the “Glasgow Effect”.

Sociologist Aaron Antonovsky refers to this term as Salutogenesis and it is the approach of highlighting the factors in life that support human health and well being instead of factors that cause disease. Developing the ability to deal with stress (of say a rough household), because it’s not an absolute certainty that someone raised in lower income Calton will fail to outlive someone raised in affluent Lenzie.

Obviously it will take several years to witness the full benefits a positive change in Glasgow’s outlook can bring, but if something so simple as highlighting Glasgow’s positives can actually help improve the health of the population, then surely it will have been time well spent.