Population: introduction

Population statistics are a vital resource for public health; population estimates and projections are put to many uses. For comparative purposes, population denominators are required to enable calculation of mortality and disease prevalence as population specific rates, rather than simple numbers of persons affected. Other examples of uses include calculations of standardised mortality/morbidity rate, life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.

Trends in population estimates are clearly important to facilitate analysis of particular diseases and risk factors over time. Population projections are used by central and local government departments in a wide range of ways, including assisting long-term fiscal and economic planning, to forecast future demands for services and to help devise strategies to deal with changing demographics.

In Scotland there are a number of different types of population these can be derived from different sources and are updated at different intervals using the latest available information.

  • Census populations
  • Population estimates
  • Household estimates
  • Population projections
  • Custom population estimates for services e.g. General Practice list sizes

The Registrar General for Scotland, who heads the National Records of Scotland (NRS), is responsible for production population estimates, household estimates and population projections derived from Scotland’s census data. National Records of Scotland publishes a range of data, including population estimates for councils, intermediate geographies and data zones, that can be found on its website and on the national data repository statistics.gov.scot website.

Population projections calculated on a national and sub-national basis are used by central and local government departments in a wide range of ways, including to assist long-term fiscal and economic planning, to forecast future demands for services and to help devise strategies to deal with changing demographics. However these projections always have a high degree of uncertainty and can change substantially (see the Office of National Statistics (ONS) website for more details of UK population projections).

Given the variety of administrative areas within Scotland (NHS boards, councils, wards etc.) population estimates are required at a range of geographies. Additionally in recent years demand for a range of socio-economic and health data for small geographical areas has led to an accompanying demand for population estimates at the same level. The Scottish Government publishes a range of data, including population estimates for councils, intermediate geographies and data zones, on its statistics.gov.scot website.

Population information detailing numbers of persons registered with health services such as General Practices and or dental services are also useful resources for public health research.  This type of information is collected and published by NHS sources.