Data released today by Public Health Scotland (PHS) shows that between 2019/20 and 2020/21 there has been a marked increase in the overall proportion of Primary 1 children (those aged around 5 years old) who are at risk of overweight or obesity - from 23% in recent years to 29.5% this year. The annual statistics cover school years 2001/02 to 2020/21 which allows a comparison to be made with past data, which in recent years have been relatively stable.

During school year 2020/21, 69.8% of Primary 1 children measured had a healthy weight, 29.5% were at risk of overweight or obesity and 0.8% were at risk of underweight. Boys in Primary 1 were also found to be slightly less likely than girls to have a healthy weight.

While the relationship between deprivation and children has been observed in previous years, between 2019/20 and 2020/21 among children living in the most deprived areas, the increase of those at risk of overweight or obesity is more than twice as large as those living in the least deprived areas.

Due to school closures and restrictions as a result of COVID-19 controls, approximately 37% of Primary 1 children were measured in 2020/21, compared to the pre-pandemic review coverage of above 70%. While the volume of data collected in Scotland during school year 2020/21 was smaller than in pre-pandemic years, the available dataset is still considered sufficiently robust to be informative.

Dr Lynda Fenton, Consultant in Public Health for Child Health at PHS, said:

“The data published today provides further evidence of the need to support the health and wellbeing of all children. We already know that the easy availability of unhealthy food options, and limitations of children’s opportunities to run and play safely have an impact on children’s health. It appears that changes in daily life over the COVID-19 pandemic period have further exacerbated these trends, resulting in an increased percentage of children beginning school, who are at risk of overweight or obesity.

“While fewer children were reviewed in school year 2020/21, the quality of the dataset has been assessed, and is robust enough to indicate the need for action. The existing gap in the percentage of children who have a healthy weight, by the level of socioeconomic deprivation of the area they live in has widened. All children deserve to have the same chance to thrive, and we need to work collectively to ensure healthy options and opportunities are in reach of everyone.

“We have an opportunity here to use today’s findings to focus on the needs of all pre-school children, and how best to address the wider impacts of the pandemic on children and young people. Space to play and affordable healthy food options can make a real difference to children’s wellbeing. We know COVID-19 has worsened some of the public health challenges and inequalities experienced in our communities; reducing financial insecurity and working to build safe, active neighbourhoods will be important in addressing these impacts”.

Read the annual Primary 1 Body Mass Index (BMI) statistics Scotland.

Last updated: 06 October 2022