What does the Scottish Health Survey tell us about how healthy Scotland is?

Ben Wray

CommonSpace breaks down the key findings from the 2017 Scottish Health Survey

THE Scottish Health Survey for 2017 was published by the Scottish Government yesterday [26 September]. 

The survey is published yearly and gives an overview of key mental and physical health indicators in Scotland. 

How healthy is Scottish society? CommonSpace breaks down the key findings from this year’s survey.

Mental Wellbeing Scale

Warwick and Edinburgh University have developed a mental wellbeing scale (WEMWBS) which the Health Survey is based on which has 14 different items as part of its questionnaire, including on depression and anxiety, self-harm and suicide attempts.

The WEMWBS mean score shows similar levels of mental wellbeing for men and women, although there was significant differences between men and women in specific categories – a far higher proportion of women had two or more symptoms of anxiety across all age groups and areas of deprivation, with nearly one in five women with two or more symptoms of anxiety in the most deprived fifth of the population. Women were also more likely to self-harm, especially in areas of lower deprivation, and for most years of recorded data have also been more likely to attempt suicide (although the number of men attempting suicide has risen sharply in recent years).

In general, there was lower mental wellbeing for 16-24, 35-44 and 45-54 age groups, with the highest level for the 6-74 year old age group.

There was a clear correlation between area deprivation and lower mental wellbeing.

There was also a direct correlation between people reporting high job demands at work and lower WEMWBS scores, while those with a positive work-life balance had higher WEMWBS scores.

Similarly, those who thought people could be trusted and had trust in their local community had higher WEMWBS scores.

Physical health

Health problems remain significantly higher for those from the most deprived areas in Scotland. 

Men (57 per cent) are more likely than women (53 per cent) to have long term physical health problems, while the number of children with long-term conditions has grown slightly since 2008.

Alcohol misuse and smoking rates

Twice as many men drank a hazardous/harmful amount of alcohol (33 per cent) as women (16 per cent). The number of people drinking over the recommended guidelines is in general higher the less deprived you are, and poorer areas also have a higher number of non-drinkers. Alochol misuse has in general been in decline.

Smoking rates have declined quickly in Scotland, but still the most deprived fifth are three times as likely to smoke as the richest fifth. The number of children exposed to second hand smoke at home has fallen from 12 to 6 per cent, while the number of non-smoking adults exposed to second-hand smoking has fallen from 85 per cent to 24 per cent, a clear success of the smoking ban in public indoor spaces.

8 per cent of adults experienced food insecurity in 2017, as defined as worrying that they may run out of food due to a lack of money or resources, the first time food insecurity has been profiled in the survey. This number rises to 20 per cent for adults 16-64, and 21 per cent for single parents.

Food insecurity and diets

Once again, food insecurity closely correlated with area deprivation.

There has been little change in diets since the turn of the decade, with the numbers of people not eating fruit and veg each day (10 per cent) static. Women (35 per cent) were significantly more likely than men (24 per cent) to take vitamin or mineral supplements as part of their diet.

Physical exercise and obesity

Only 33 per cent of children aged 5-15 meet the guidelines for 60 minutes of physical activity, with the older children get the less likely they are to meet the guidelines.

71 per cent of men met the physical guidelines compared to 60 per cent of women, a consistent trend.

The number of overweight or obese people has remained stable since 2008, at 65 per cent. On a different scale, the number of men and women with a raised waist circumference has risen significantly from 2003 (28 and 39 per cent respectively) to 2017 (38 to 54 per cent respectively). 57 per cent of women are categorised as at high risk from being overweight compared to 42 per cent of men.

Child obesity has declined in recent years, especially for young boys, with the number of obese people falling from 20 to 12 per cent from 2012 to 2017.


Gambling activity decreased from 2012 to 2017 from 70 to 63 per cent, but this was largely driven by a fall in people participating in the national lottery rather than the more problematic sport betting. Problem gambling is predominantly a male problem, with 1.4 per cent of men problem gamblers, compared to 0.2 per cent of women. Those in the most deprived areas are three times as likely to be problem gamblers as those in the least deprived.

Younger adults are substantially more likely to gamble.

Pictures courtesy of the Scottish Government

HELP BUILD A COMMON FUTURE TOGETHER: Support our work at allofusfirst.org/donate