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19th January, 20215 min read

Caucasian health: what you need to know

Medical reviewer: Dr Ann Nainan
Author: Claire Fielden
Last reviewed: 22/12/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

When you’re thinking about your health, it’s a good idea to take your ethnic group and culture into account. This is because genetic and social factors can play a part in whether you get certain health conditions during your lifetime.

Some conditions and diseases are more likely to occur in particular ethnic groups. This doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop a certain problem – it’s simply that your risk may be a bit higher than people with different backgrounds.

Read on to find out what health conditions may be more likely to affect you if you’re white, and what you can do to reduce your risk.

What kinds of people are classed as Caucasian?

A Caucasian person is someone with origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa. Classifications used to describe people who are Caucasian include:

  • white
  • white British
  • white Irish
  • white other
  • non-Hispanic white

Some people have one Caucasian parent and one parent from another ethnic group. Classifications used to describe people who are of mixed or multiple ethnic groups include:

  • white and Black African
  • white and Black Caribbean
  • white and Asian
  • white and other

What health conditions can affect Caucasians?

The way you choose to live can play a role in whether you get certain health problems. For example, eating a lower fat diet may be good for your health, while smoking is known to be bad for your health. So, if you’re aware that people of your ethnic group or culture are more at risk of a particular illness, you may be able to reduce that risk by making different lifestyle choices.

If you’re Caucasian, you could be at higher risk of some of the following health conditions.

Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic condition, caused by a faulty gene, and this gene occurs more often in Caucasian people. It causes sticky, thick mucus to build up in the body's tubes and passageways, which leads to problems with the lungs and other organs. There’s no cure for cystic fibrosis, but treatment can ease the symptoms and make the condition easier to live with and allow you to live longer with the condition. Around half of people with cystic fibrosis will live beyond the age of 40 and children born with cystic fibrosis now are likely to live longer than this.

Spinal muscular atrophy

Spinal muscular atrophy is a genetic disease that causes the link between the body’s nerves and muscles to break down, leading to loss of muscle function and muscle weakness that gets worse over time. It’s caused by a problem in genes called SMN1 or SMN2, which tends to be more common in Caucasian people.

Cancer

UK research suggests that cancer is more common in Caucasian females than Black or Asian females, and more common in Caucasian and Black men than Asian men. In some cases, such as with colorectal cancer, the difference is linked to genetic factors. It’s thought that lifestyle and diet may play a part in other cases.

Caucasian people also have a higher risk of developing skin cancers, as they don’t have as much protective pigmentation (melanin) in their skin.

Mental health issues

Of course, anyone can be affected by mental health issues, but certain problems may be more common among white people. In the UK, for example, research shows rates for suicidal thoughts, self-harm and alcohol dependence are highest among the Caucasian population.

In the USA, meanwhile, studies have shown that Caucasian people tend to drink more alcohol, and drink more often, than many other ethnic groups. Binge-drinking and alcohol-related problems are common in white men and women, and in young and older age groups. You can find more information about alcohol misuse here.

Finally, it’s worth noting that, in the UK, the white Gypsy or Irish Traveller population has particularly poor health. Both men and women in this group have twice the rate of limiting long-term illnesses compared with white British people.

What can I do to reduce my risk?

While there are some risk factors you can’t change – such as age and family history – making some lifestyle changes can help to lower your risk of certain conditions and illnesses.

Physical health

Unfortunately, you can’t do anything to protect yourself against genetic conditions, such as spinal muscular atrophy and cystic fibrosis.

But lifestyle choices can help to reduce your risk of cancer. You should try to:

  • eat a healthy diet
  • keep to a healthy weight
  • exercise regularly
  • limit how much alcohol you drink
  • avoid smoking

Caucasian people in particular should also take extra care when in the sun, as they have a higher risk of skin cancer. You can wear long-sleeved clothing to protect your skin, and apply sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) to exposed areas.

Mental health

Some mental health services offer counselling for specific issues, such as alcohol dependency. This can involve help to take control of your drinking, and advice about a long-term plan of action.

If there’s anything you feel like you can’t control, or you feel like you need support with your mental health, talking to your doctor is a good place to start.

Key points

  • Caucasian people are people with origins in Europe, the Middle East or North Africa
  • Caucasian people are also known as ‘white’
  • Caucasian people are more at risk of certain genetic conditions, such as cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy, as well as some cancers
  • Caucasian people may drink more alcohol than other ethnic groups
  • making lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and not smoking, can reduce the risk of cancer
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