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

Public health challenges

There are a number of public health challenges and you can find out more about these here.

Stall in life expectancy

The biggest public health challenge facing Scotland is the stall in life expectancy. Life expectancy has stalled across all socio-economic groups and in our poorest areas it has actually decreased. 

This means that health inequalities are worsening and that socioeconomic position is increasingly impacting on how long we live for, and how long we live in good health. The best evidence currently available suggests that this is due to austerity and that pressure on health and social care services are also contributing. You can find out more about this on the ScotPHO site. 

Environmental sustainability and climate change

Environmental sustainability and climate change is another major public health challenge. Human health depends on healthy natural systems and environments. Continued degradation of the environment through, for example, emissions of greenhouse gases and pollution poses a significant threat to population health now and for future generations.  

There is international evidence that the impact of climate change on population health is not evenly distributed and will more negatively impact on those with the least resources and power.

The Scottish Government supports the international agreement that urgent action is needed to limit global temperatures rises through the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It has declared a climate emergency and has proposed a target for net zero greenhouse emissions by 2045.

The Scottish Managed Sustainable Health Network (SMaSH) provides leadership in this area, together with NHS Health Scotland. It brings together public health specialists with expertise in sustainability and is part of the Scottish Public Health Network (ScotPHN).

Other challenges

You can read more about other significant public health challenges throughout this site including our pages on