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


Obesity is a significant public health issue. Scotland has some of the highest incidences of obesity for men and women among OECD countries.  After a period of rising levels, obesity rates are now stable.

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

  • Levels of child obesity have been fairly stable over time.
  • In 2016, 29% of Scotland's children were at risk of becoming overweight (including obesity). 14% were at risk of becoming obese.
  • In 2016, 65% of adults were overweight including 29% obese.

Overweight and obesity can have harmful consequences for individuals and for the economy. 

  • Individual - being overweight or obese can increase the risk of developing a range of serious diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and some cancers.
  • Economy- the cost to the economy is estimated to be anywhere between £0.9 billion and £4.6 billion.

The term ‘obesogenic environment’ describes the range of external factors that impact on our eating habits and levels of exercise, including

  • more affordable car travel
  • marketing and promotion of unhealthy foods
  • more sedentary jobs with longer working hours
  • increased availability of foods high in salt, sugar and fat
  • popularity of less active pastimes like social media, gaming and watching TV
  • cost factors - calorie-dense and nutrient-poor foods tend to be cheaper than healthier options
  • built environment and transport systems that discourage active living and regular physical activity.

You can read more data on obesity on the Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) site (external site).

Obesity and health inequalities

Obesity in Scotland shows a strong link with inequalities. Lower socio-economic status is associated with higher levels of obesity.

  • Risk of obesity in children is lowest for those living in more affluent areas.
  • Around 32% of adults living in the most deprived areas are obese, compared with 20% of those living in the least deprived areas.
  • Women and children in the most deprived areas are particularly affected by more extreme obesity.

The Scottish Government publishes annual data on obesity (external site)

Local and national actions

There is a lot of evidence about what action is needed to address the high levels of obesity in Scotland. We commissioned a survey to find out what the public think about obesity and action on obesity. A key finding is that the public support action that makes it easier to make healthier choices and maintain a healthy weight.

The Scottish Public Health Network (ScotPHN) has undertaken work including

  • a review of the Child Healthy Weight Programme
  • a review of the Obesity Route Map on behalf of the Scottish Public Health Obesity Special Interest Group
  • the production of the Scottish Obesity Action Resources to support local action on the prevention and treatment of obesity
  • produce the Scottish Obesity Action Resource final reports 
  • a number of national engagement events on the draft of the Scottish Government’s Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan
  • supporting the Scottish Public Health Nutrition Group (SPHNG) with its goal to improve the nutritional well-being of the Scottish population.

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 tackling obesity 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

NHS Health Scotland 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.

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.