NHS Scotland have published new information to show how levels of obesity in Scotland have changed over time. The new analysis: ‘Obesity in Scotland: A Persistent Inequality’ also highlights how obesity levels differ according to socio-economic status.

The Scottish adult population as a whole has become heavier over time. The most recent figures for 2015 show that 28% of men and 29% of women aged 18–64 were obese. The proportion of overweight women in Scotland almost doubled over 20 years – from 31% in 1995 to 60% in 2015, the report found. In the same period, the level of overweight men jumped to 66% from 40%.

However, this increase in weight is not evenly distributed across society. The research, which used the most recent figures from 2015-16, found that people living in Scotland's most-deprived communities were more likely to be obese. For men, those living in the least deprived areas have the lowest obesity levels while levels are higher, but broadly similar, for men in all other areas. In contrast, obesity is progressively more common for women as deprivation increases.

In addition, the rate of children starting school in danger of becoming obese was 7% in the most affluent areas, but nearly double that at 13% for the least wealthy. This shows how early on in a child’s life inequalities in obesity appear.

Commenting on the research, Elaine Tod, Public Health Intelligence Advisor with NHS Health Scotland said “Obesity used to be more common amongst the richer in society as it was only those who could afford to eat well who became obese. This trend has reversed and we now see higher rates of obesity in those who are less well-off. The reasons for this are complex, including the affordability and availability of high fat, high sugar food in comparison with healthy food and the increasing popularity of more sedentary pastimes. What is clear is that action is needed to achieve both a population-wide decrease in obesity and to prevent obesity-related health inequalities widening further.”

Lorraine Tulloch, Programme Lead at Obesity Action Scotland added “This report clearly outlines that the most deprived in our society are suffering the greatest burden of obesity. It also highlights that focusing on actions individuals can take only worsens the inequalities gap. If we want to ensure we tackle the gap we need to see bold, ambitious action to change the food environment around us to ensure the healthy choice is the easy choice for everyone.”