This website is now part of Public Health Scotland. Publications released after 16 March 2020 are now published on the Public Health Scotland website.
Improving health
Previously NHS Health Scotland

Healthy weight

Our vision is for a Scotland where everybody thrives - that our communities and environment support health and wellbeing, including being a healthy weight, no matter where you live.

  • 33% of adults aged 16 and over had a weight within the healthy range in 2019
  • 66% (2 in 3) adults aged 16 and over have overweight or obesity
  • 29% (more than 1 in 4) adults have obesity
  • 68% of children aged 2-15 had a weight within the healthy range in 2019
  • 30% of children aged 2-15 were at risk of overweight, including 16% at risk of obesity
  • The proportion of healthy weight children has remained relatively stable over several years

Causes of obesity

What causes someone to have a higher weight is complex and often not well understood. Weight is influenced by a person's experience throughout their life-course, including economic, social and environmental factors. This includes whether our environment supports or constrains physical activity; accessibility of affordable healthy food; the influence of social circles, and industry marketing, alongside genetic and physiological factors.

Reducing obesity: future choices - GOV.UK

Who is affected by obesity?

Research shows that obesity impacts people of all backgrounds. However, levels of obesity are very closely linked to the socio-economic circumstances within which people live.

The Institute of Health Equity (2010) Fair Society Healthy Lives - The Marmot Review (PDF)

We know that people who live in our most deprived areas are most impacted. Significant inequalities in levels of obesity persist between people living in the least and most deprived groups in Scotland.

  • 65% of adults have overweight or obesity in the most deprived areas compared to 56% in the least deprived areas
  • A higher proportion of children were at risk of obesity in Scotland’s most deprived areas in 2019 (24%) than in the least deprived areas (9%).

You can find out more about obesity and health inequalities, as well as local and national actions being taken to address this, below.

Weight stigma

People with higher weight can experience stigma and discrimination because of their body weight and size. Experiences of weight stigma are known to have negative impacts on people’s mental and physical health, can create barriers to accessing services, and compromise wider public health efforts to prevent and treat obesity.

National and local actions

We have produced a Rapid Evidence Review to provide an overview of the best available evidence on the impact of promotions on high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) food and drink on consumer purchasing and consumption behaviour, and the impact of retail based interventions on promotions.

Scotland’s Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan

The Scottish Government’s main strategy for supporting healthy weight is A Healthier Future: Scotland’s Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan (external site), published in 2018. The delivery plan contains a number of measures to restrict the promotion and advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and actions to tackle childhood obesity. This includes more support to children, young people and families to achieve a healthy weight, and training for frontline staff in services that work with them.

The plan sets out five outcomes, each supported by a range of actions.

  • Children have the best start in life – they eat well and have a healthy weight
  • The food environment supports healthier choices
  • People have access to effective weight management
  • Leaders across all sectors promote healthy diet and weight
  • Diet-related health inequalities are reduced

Standards for the delivery of Tier 2 and Tier 3 weight management services in Scotland

PHS supports co-ordinated action to reduce the prevalence of obesity in Scotland and associated health inequalities. This includes supporting the delivery of effective weight management services for the treatment of overweight and obesity.

In the Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan (2018) we made a commitment to work with partners to develop standards to ensure a more consistent, equitable and evidence-based approach to the treatment of overweight and obesity.

Read our report on referrals to, and intervention pathways for, weight management services in NHS boards.

Impacts of in-premise marketing on consumer purchasing and consumption

To ensure action is informed by evidence, the Scottish Government commissioned us, in partnership with the University of Stirling and the University of Edinburgh, to provide a review of the impact of in-premise marketing of food high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) on consumer behaviour.

The evidence suggests that, overall, in-premise marketing of HFSS food has an impact on increasing consumer purchasing behaviour. It seems especially influential for children and young people.

Impacts of weight management services on population health and health inequalities

We know that weight management services can have benefits for individuals, but we don’t know the scale of their impacts on population health and health inequalities.  So we included weight management services in our ‘Informing Interventions to reduce health Inequalities’ (Triple I) project. 

Using the interactive tool you can:

  • alter the number of individuals treated
  • alter the targeting strategy (e.g. to deprived areas)
  • estimate results for local areas as well as for Scotland

We found that weight management services could help to reduce health inequalities if targeted where most needed.

Contact us

You can contact us to find out more about our work and how you can get involved.