Failing to achieve child healthy weight

14 May 2023
Exactly five years ago (14th May 2018) the former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon committed to an ambition to halve the rate of childhood obesity by 2030. The most recent figures indicate that we are unlikely to achieve that ambition, and rates of childhood obesity have increased in recent years.

Halving childhood obesity in Scotland by 2030 would mean achieving a child obesity prevalence of 7%, as measured through the Scottish Health Survey. Although the commitment was announced in 2018, the baseline data year for the ambition is 2016. In that year, 14% of children were at risk of obesity [1]. 

The latest available data paints a stark picture of a significant and growing issue of childhood obesity in Scotland, and demonstrates that we’re heading in completely the wrong direction. Data from the 2021 Scottish Health Survey reports that 18% of children are now at risk of obesity [2], which represents a 4% increase from the 2016 baseline, and moves us even further away from achieving the ambition by 2030.

Protecting and enhancing children’s health is crucially important. Childhood is a critical stage and has a significant impact on health outcomes in adulthood. Obesity in childhood has a profound impact on children’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, including increased risk for many health conditions including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This risk extends into adulthood too, as children at risk of obesity are much more likely to have obesity as adults.

In the graph the orange line represents child obesity prevalence reported in Scottish Health Surveys since 2010. Purple line indicates the prevalence target of 7% set from 2016.


Lorraine Tulloch, Programme Lead of Obesity Action Scotland said:

“The Scottish Government made a commitment to halve childhood obesity by 2030 however we are heading in completely the wrong direction. That isn’t good enough. We need to ensure our children’s health is prioritised and we provide the environments needed to maintain a healthy weight.

Action by the Scottish Government to tackle the pervasive marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt could ensure that the places where we shop and eat put the healthy options centre stage. We call on the Scottish Government to introduce the Bill to restrict the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt as soon as possible. This Bill has been promised since 2018 and is now urgently needed to protect children’s health”



[1] Scottish Government (2019) Scottish Health Survey 2018 Supplementary tables – Body mass index -

[2] Scottish Government (2022) Scottish Health Survey 2021 Volume 1 – main report