Health inequalities persist in Scotland, finds nationwide survey

People who live in the most deprived areas of Scotland have poorer health and are less likely to exercise than the those in the richest parts of the country according to the findings of a nationwide health survey.

Health inequalities persist in Scotland

The 2016 Scottish Health Survey shows that 35 per cent of those living in the most deprived areas smoke cigarettes. This is three times higher than those living in the least deprived areas (11 per cent). In total 21 per cent of adults are smoking, down from 28 per cent in 2003.

Researchers also found differences in levels of physical activity in relation to deprivation. People in the most deprived areas of Scotland are less likely to be physically active than those in the least deprived areas. Just over half (54%) of people in the poorest areas meet the Scottish Government’s guidelines for physical activity, compared with three-quarters (74%) of those in the least deprived areas.

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The Scottish Health Survey also examined the extent to which people have more than one health risk factor including smoking, harmful drinking, low physical activity and obesity. The findings demonstrate that people in the most deprived areas are 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 said: “The persisting health inequalities in the Scottish population is a matter for national concern. Improving the health outcomes of more deprived people in Scotland is one of the most important challenges for public health professionals and policymakers to address in the coming years. Given that people in more deprived areas are more likely to have multiple health risk factors, now may be the time for a more joined-up approach to public health interventions than we have previously seen.”

“The relatively poor diet of Scottish children compared to adults is also a worry. Our research highlights the need for public health professionals, policy makers and families with children to do more to improve poor eating habits amongst children”

Conversely, the average weekly alcohol consumption among women was higher on average in the least deprived areas at 9.7 units compared to 7.5 units in the most deprived areas.

The survey also found that the average daily amount of fruit and vegetables eaten by Scottish adults has fallen with most adults managing an average of three portions per day - the lowest consumption since 2003.

Labour Public Health spokesperson Colin Smyth said: "This report highlights yet again the link between ill health and low incomes. 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.

"The blunt truth is that there has been an utter failure from existing government strategies around public health. We need to see radical action to address the gap between the richest and the poorest in Scotland. The SNP need to realise that a government cannot tackle health inequalities without tackling the wealth inequalities in our society."

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “We are working to create a culture where people eat and feel well, have a healthy weight and children learn good habits for life. “Eating and feeling well can go hand in hand with being physically active. There is a welcome increase in the number of children who are physically active, which we're championing through our ambition to make Scotland the world’s first Daily Mile nation. We are also putting active travel at the heart of transport planning by doubling investment in walking and cycling to £80 million next year. “While the survey found a positive shift in the adult consumption of non-diet soft drinks, biscuits and oily fish, as a nation we want to go further to address unhealthy diets and increase physical activity. “There is no quick fix, but we can act decisively. 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."