Ethnic inequalities in multiple long-term health conditions in the United Kingdom: a systematic review and narrative synthesis

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Indicative evidence suggests that minoritised ethnic groups have higher risk of developing multiple long-term conditions (MLTCs), and do so earlier than the majority white population. While there is evidence on ethnic inequalities in single health conditions and comorbidities, no review has attempted to look across these from a MLTCs perspective. As such, we currently have an incomplete understanding of the extent of ethnic inequalities in the prevalence of MLTCs. Further, concerns have been raised about variations in the way ethnicity is operationalised and how this impedes our understanding of health inequalities. In this systematic review we aimed to 1) describe the literature that provides evidence of ethnicity and prevalence of MLTCs amongst people living in the UK, 2) summarise the prevalence estimates of MLTCs across ethnic groups and 3) to assess the ways in which ethnicity is conceptualised and operationalised. We focus on the state of the evidence prior to, and during the very early stages of the pandemic. We registered the protocol on PROSPERO (CRD42020218061). Between October and December 2020, we searched ASSIA, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, PubMed, ScienceDirect, Scopus, Web of Science, OpenGrey, and reference lists of key studies/reviews. The main outcome was prevalence estimates for MLTCs for at least one minoritised ethnic group, compared to the majority white population. We included studies conducted in the UK reporting on ethnicity and prevalence of MLTCs. To summarise the prevalence estimates of MLTCs across ethnic groups we included only studies of MLTCs that provided estimates adjusted at least for age. Two reviewers screened and extracted data from a random sample of studies (10%). Data were synthesised using narrative synthesis. Of the 7949 studies identified, 84 met criteria for inclusion. Of these, seven contributed to the evidence of ethnic inequalities in MLTCs. Five of the seven studies point to higher prevalence of MLTCs in at least one minoritised ethnic group compared to their white counterparts. Because the number/types of health conditions varied between studies and some ethnic populations were aggregated or omitted, the findings may not accurately reflect the true level of ethnic inequality. Future research should consider key explanatory factors, including those at the macrolevel (e.g. racism, discrimination), as they may play a role in the development and severity of MLTCs in different ethnic groups. Research is also needed to ascertain the extent to which the COVID19 pandemic has exacerbated these inequalities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number178
Pages (from-to)178
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2023


  • Humans
  • COVID-19
  • United Kingdom/epidemiology
  • Ethnicity
  • Narration
  • Research Design


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