But the moniker ‘sick man of Europe’ latter came to be associated with Scotland and its well-documented public health issues.
Significant progress has been made north of the border in recent years, with deaths from heart and lung disease falling sharply.
So is the term still relevant in 2016? The findings of the annual Scottish Health Survey, published last week, suggest there is much work to be done if Scotland is to become known as a model of healthy living.
“The good news is that we are kicking the smoking habit,” said Diarmid Campbell-Jack, director at ScotCen Social Research, which conducted the survey on behalf of the Scottish Government.
“The bad news is that a lot of people in Scotland still weigh too much, and it’s well documented the burden an overweight population can place on health services.”
While fewer Scots are smoking, the number of people “vaping” - or using electronic cigarettes - has increased.
The Scottish Health Survey found 21 per cent of adults smoke in comparison to 28 per cent in 2003, although figures for the last three years have been relatively similar.
“We are also able to see for the first time how usage of electronic cigarettes has changed – seven per cent of the population currently use them, a significant increase on the 5 per cent using them in the previous year, with young adults particularly more likely to have tried them than older adults,” added Campbell-Jack.
“We see a similar downward trend in the extent that children are exposed to smoke.
“Here there has been a significant change in a relatively short period of time. In 2014, just over one in 10 of children were exposed to second-hand smoke in the home, decreasing to just over one in twenty (6 per cent) last year.
“This is good news for Scottish health; children who are exposed to second hand smoke are at increased risk of several health conditions, and children with a parent who smokes are three times more likely to smoke themselves.”
Less welcome was the news that nearly two-thirds of Scots are overweight or obese.
“The proportion of adults who are overweight or obese hasn’t changed to any great extent since 2008, with around two-thirds (65 per cent) fitting in this category last year,” said Campbell-Jack.
“And while levels of obesity have plateaued, the proportion of people carrying a dangerous amount of weight around their stomach, with what is termed a “raised” waist circumference, has increased.
“Back in 2003, 28 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women had a raised waist circumference but in the most recent couple of years this has risen to 37 per cent and 52 per cent respectively.
“Some good news comes when we look at the weight of Scotland’s children. Although there has been little change since 2008 in the proportion of girls who are a healthy weight (70 per cent in 2015), there have been year-on-year increases for boys in the most recent period, rising gradually from 63 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent in 2015.”