Scots 'heaviest since 2003' as public health challenges highlighted by Scottish Health Survey

Written by Tom Freeman on 4 October 2017 in News

Scottish Health Survey reveals levels of obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption have plateaued

Obesity - PA

Scotland's unhealthy lifestyle choices have persisted despite attempts to improve the nation's health, the results of the Scottish Health Survey has revealed.

Levels of obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption have plateaued in recent years, and the average BMI is its highest level since 2003.

Two thirds of Scots remain overweight or obese, with children are more likely to eat food high in fat and sugar.


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As many as 85 per cent of men aged 65-74 are overweight or obese.

The smoking rate remained at 21 per cent of adults in 2016, the same level as in 2015.

Prevalence of exceeding the government recommendations for maximum weekly alcohol consumption - 14 units a week - has increased by one per cent in the last year.

In areas of deprivation the rates are higher, with people twice as likely to have two or more risk factors than those living in the least deprived areas.

Joanne McLean, Research Director of the Scottish Health Survey at ScotCen Social Research, which carried out the research, said: “The Scottish Health Survey reveals several challenges for public health professionals and policymakers to address in the coming years.

"For example, although the prevalence of adult overweight and obesity has plateaued at around two thirds, the data suggest that average BMI is at its highest level since 2003. Levels of obesity are highest amongst older adults, but the fact that children are consuming more foods high in sugar and fat than adults, as evidenced in this report, are also a cause for concern as poor eating habits established at an early age may well be carried through to adulthood.

 “When it comes to alcohol, the good news is that the average number of units consumed by drinkers has gone down.

"But one in four of us still drink over the recommended maximum of 14 units per week, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. It remains to be seen what policy interventions will change this picture and help to reduce alcohol-related harm.” 

Minimum unit pricing for alcohol was passed in 2012 but is still being challenged in the courts by the drinks industry.

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said the Scottish Government wanted "to go further", with the long awaited diet and obesity strategy to be consulted on "soon".

“There is no quick fix, but we can act decisively," she said.

"We will soon be consulting on an ambitious new strategy to improve Scotland's diet and help address obesity. This will include steps to limit the marketing of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, giving more help for people to lose weight, and ensuring better advice and services to help children and families lead healthier lives." 

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's cancer prevention expert based at the University of Stirling, said being overweight was "becoming the norm", and called for a bold strategy including a ban on multi-buy offers.

“Obesity is affecting every generation and so, as part of its forthcoming obesity strategy, the Scottish Government must help families make it easier to keep a healthy weight,” she said.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-smoking charity ASH Scotland, said the static figures on smoking meant Scotland needed to "redouble our efforts".

“In particular, we have to look at smoking in the poorest areas of Scotland," she said. "People in the most deprived fifth of the country are more than three times as likely to smoke as those in the richest fifth – even though they’re just as likely to want to quit. That isn’t fair. We need targeted help and support for the people who need it the most."

Labour Public Health spokesperson Colin Smyth said "radical action" was needed. 

"This report highlights yet again the link between ill health and low incomes," he said. "You're more likely to lead a healthy, active lifestyle if you come from a more prosperous background. 

"SNP ministers should study this report carefully - it shows the big challenges that our NHS is going to face in the coming years from issues such as obesity and mental health conditions."

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