Obesity is a significant public health issue in Scotland. After a period of rising levels of obesity, obesity rates are now stable. Obesity rates are higher now than in 1995, and Scotland has some of the highest incidences of obesity for men and women among OECD countries. 

You can find Scottish Public Health Network (ScotPHN) reports on the Obesity Route Map and Child Healthy Weight project 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) website (external website).

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.
  • 22% of men living in more affluent areas are obese compared to 28% living in deprived areas.
  • 21% of women living in more affluent areas are obese compared to 37% living in 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 website). 

Local and national action

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 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 action locally on the prevention and treatment of obesity through sharing good practice within NHS Board areas. You can download their Scottish Obesity Action Resource final reports (external website) for more information.

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.

While there are a range of drivers of the obesogenic environment, this paper specifically seeks to address the particular influence of promotions on driving unhealthy dietary choices, in particular the influence of HFSS food promotion on consumer purchase behaviour delivered in the retail setting.

A variety of Child Healthy Weight programmes run locally to contribute to the overall aim of the strategy. You can find out more about our Child Healthy Weight programmes.

We support a network of healthy weight professionals and have resources and training on Raising the issue of Child Healthy Weight on our Virtual Learning Environment.

The Scottish Government’s main strategy for tackling obesity is ‘Preventing Overweight and Obesity in Scotland: A Route Map towards Healthy Weight’, published in 2010. The strategy recognises that the environment we live in must be shifted from one that promotes weight gain to one that supports healthy choices and healthy weight for all. You can download the Scottish Government’s Healthy Weight Route Map (external website) for more information.

Action is organised around four themes

  • workplace - increasing the responsibility of organisations for the health and wellbeing of their employees
  • early years - establishing life-long habits and skills for positive health behaviour through early life interventions
  • energy in - reducing energy intake by controlling exposure to, demand for and consumption of excessive quantities of high calorific foods and drinks
  • energy out - increasing energy expenditure by increasing the opportunities for and uptake of walking, cycling and other physical activity in our daily lives and minimising sedentary behaviour.

Contact the Food and Health team to find out more about our obesity work.

The Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) has created a tool called Informing Interventions to reduce health Inequalities (Triple I).  This allows you to compare the estimated health and inequality impact of different interventions.  One of the interventions is Counterweight, a programme delivered by primary care and pharmacy support staff to help overweight and obese people control their weight.