Protecting our Children: How do we meet the childhood obesity 2030 target in Scotland?

10 October 2019

World Obesity Day is on the 11th October. This year will focus on Childhood Obesity, with several reports being published, including the Global Atlas on Childhood Obesity from the World Obesity Federation detailing childhood obesity prevalence across 191 countries.

In this blog, we take a look at the statistics for childhood obesity prevalence from the Scottish Health Survey and consider how far we need to go to reach the Scottish Government’s ambition to halve childhood obesity by 2030.


Current childhood obesity prevalence in Scotland

In September, the new Scottish Health Survey report was published, detailing obesity prevalence in Scotland across all age groups. In 2018 in Scotland:

Calculated from the 2018 Scottish Health Survey report and mid-year 2018 population data for children aged 2-15. The number of children aged 2-15 in Scotland at risk of overweight or obesity is approximately 236,000. The number of children aged 2-15 in Scotland at risk of obesity is approximately 130,134.


The childhood obesity prevalence data was disappointing, as it indicates that we are no longer following a downward trajectory in rates of obesity prevalence in children. It therefore means that childhood obesity prevalence is staying relatively stable, having remained within a four percentage point window over the last 9 years.


How does this fit in with the 2030 ambition?

In mid-2018, the First Minister announced a pledge to halve childhood obesity by 2030. This ambition was reiterated and sits at the heart of Scotland’s Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan. In the Scottish Government’s 2018-19 Programme for Government it was noted that the commitment to halve childhood obesity by 2030 would mean that approximately 56,000 fewer children would be at risk of obesity. This indicates that the baseline for halving childhood obesity is the 2016 figure, as just over 112,000 children aged 2-15 in Scotland were at risk of obesity in 2016.  If this is the case, the ambition is for us to achieve a rate of 7% of children being at risk of obesity by 2030.


Prevalence of obesity in children aged 2-15 in Scotland (2010-2018)

Figure 1. Children in Scotland aged 2-15 at risk of obesity, from 2010 to 2018. Red line indicates the 7% target for the 2030 ambition, based on 2016 figures.


Since the ambition was announced, there has been no consistent decline in the prevalence of obesity in children aged 2-15 in Scotland. Rather, this year, almost 18,000 more children aged 2-15 in Scotland are at risk of obesity than when the ambition was announced.

It won’t be clear whether this increase is a normal fluctuation until we have data for the years ahead.



The UK position looks similar. The recently published Global Atlas of Childhood Obesity assigns the UK a childhood obesity risk score of 7.5 out of 11, with 11 representing the highest risk, despite existing policies related to diet, physical activity and food marketing to children. The World Obesity Federation predict that 1,309,702 children and young people aged 5-19 in the UK will have obesity by 2030.


What can we take from this?

Scotland has a long way to go if we are to reach the Government’s ambition of halving childhood obesity by 2030. Currently, we are not on track and swift, ambitious action is required if we are to make any progress towards the target. This highlights the necessity of implementing policies and regulatory approaches to protect children from the obesogenic food environment, including Obesity Action Scotland’s calls to:

  • Introduce a 9pm watershed on advertising of products high in fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS) across all digital media
  • Introduce legislation to effectively restrict all types of price promotions on HFSS products, including temporary price reductions, multi-buys and extra-free, as well as non-price promotions in retail, online and out of home
  • Introduce regulation in the out of home environment, including controlling portion sizes, reformulating products, reducing calories, mandatory calorie labelling on menus and improved planning and licensing
  • Acknowledge young people’s social needs and preferences by engaging them in decision-making around improving the food environment in and around schools


It’s time to take real action to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in Scotland.


Take a look at our briefings on Promotions, Advertising and Marketing and Reformulation for further details on the current situation and our recommendations for key actions.