Scots' health hits nadir as only 2.5% of population are given clean bill

UNHEALTHY living is virtually universal in Scotland, with a large majority of the population putting itself at risk, a controversial study claimed yesterday.

Experts said that an estimated 97.5 per cent of Scots were likely to be overweight, smoke, drink heavily, take no exercise or have a poor diet.

Scientists writing in the online journal BMC Public Health concluded that people in Scotland seemed to be "living dangerously".

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But the Scottish Government yesterday said the figures were out of date and improvements were being made to the nation's health.

Scotland has long suffered from a reputation for ill-health and has higher death rates from cancer, heart disease and stroke than elsewhere in the UK.

This is despite Scottish health spending being up to 16 per cent higher per person than it is south of the Border, according to a report by the Centre for Public Policy for Regions.

The new study, led by Dr David Conway at Glasgow University, was based on data from 6,574 people who took part in the 2003 Scottish Health Survey.

In their paper the researchers wrote: "The Scottish population seems to be living dangerously. Considering five major risk factors to health – cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, poor diet, physical inactivity, and overweight – nearly the whole adult population (97.5 per cent) have at least one behavioural risk factor."

An estimated 86 per cent of Scottish men and women had at least two risk factors, 55 per cent had three or more, and nearly 20 per cent had either four or all five, the authors added.

Dr Conway said: "Our analysis shows that around two thirds of the Scottish population is overweight or obese, a similar proportion are not sufficiently physically active, and most people have a poor diet. It is just that it is not the same majority for each factor.

"The most important determinants for multiple risk factors were low educational attainment and residence in our most deprived communities."

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The true picture may be even worse, since the findings were largely based on self-reported behaviour, the researchers pointed out.

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "If the rest of the country's population mirrors this large study then it's fair to say that people in Scotland are not particularly healthy."

But Colin Waine, from the National Obesity Forum, questioned the figures. "I find it hard to believe that 97.5 per cent of the population in Scotland fall into this category," he said.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "These figures are out of date – the last Scottish Health Survey was carried out in 2008 and shows that rates of smoking have fallen and rates of exercise have increased since the 2003 report."