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Scottish Health Survey reveals decline in wellbeing since pandemic

08 November 2022

The annual Scottish Health Survey is published today by the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) and the Scottish Government, providing a detailed picture of the health of the Scottish population.

The latest survey was conducted in 2021 and covers topics including mental wellbeing, long COVID, diet and food insecurity, obesity, physical activity, smoking, alcohol, drugs and gambling.

Wellbeing in Scotland has declined since the pandemic, with women worse affected

  • Average levels of mental wellbeing were significantly lower in Scotland in 2021 than in 2019, following a decade in which levels had remained fairly constant.
  • Average wellbeing for adults, measured using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS), was 48.6, the lowest level recorded on the survey since it began tracking wellbeing began in 2008.
  • Wellbeing scores fell more sharply for women than for men between 2019 and 2021 and wellbeing scores were lower in the most deprived areas and higher in the least deprived areas.
  • The number of adults with a possible psychiatric disorder increased significantly from 17% in 2019 to 22% in 2021. This is also a significant increase on the proportion recorded in previous years, which ranged from 14%-19%.
  • Self-reported depression and anxiety among adults in 2021 remained at similar levels to before the pandemic, having reached their highest levels in ten years in 2018/19.
  • Depression, anxiety, ever attempted suicide and ever self-harmed were higher among younger age groups (16-44) than older (65+).

Rise in online gambling in Scotland over the past decade

  • The proportion of adults in Scotland who participated in online gambling has doubled from 7% in 2012 to 14% in 2021.
  • Overall gambling participation including the National Lottery has declined from 70% in 2012 to 58% in 2021 – largely due to a decline in participation in the National Lottery, from 58% in 2012 to 41% in 2021.
  • Women who reported having gambled had lower mental wellbeing (47.3), measured using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS), than men who did so (48.6).

Food insecurity more common among younger adults and single parents in Scotland

  • In 2021, before the current rising cost of living, younger adults were more likely than older adults to be worried that they would run out of food. Around 1 in 7 (14%) of 16-44 year olds had worried they would run out of food, compared with 8% of 45-64 year olds and 1% of those 65+.
  • In 2019/2021 combined, the highest levels of food insecurity were among single parents and single adults under the age of 65.
  • 34% of single parents were worried that they might run out of food because of a lack of resources at some point in the previous 12 months. 23% had eaten less than they otherwise would, and 12% had run out of food.
  • 19% of single adults were worried that they might run out of food, 15% had eaten less than they otherwise would and 10% had run out of food.

Number of current smokers in Scotland reaches record low

  • Around one in ten (11%) adults in Scotland reported being current smokers in 2021, reflecting a long-term decline in smoking since 2003 (28%).
  • The decline in smoking was similar among women and men, with 11% of women and 12% of men saying they were current smokers In 2021, compared with 28% and 29% respectively in 2003.
  • The proportion of people saying they currently use an e-cigarette also declined slightly to 5% after staying constant at 7% each year between 2015 and 2019.

Victoria Wilson, Research Director at the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen), said: “This important annual survey makes a major contribution to understanding and monitoring the health of people in Scotland. This year the survey reveals worsening wellbeing in the wake of the pandemic. It also highlights the extent to which certain groups in society – especially single parents and younger, single adults – were facing food insecurity even before the current rising cost of living.

In terms of longer trends, this year’s survey highlights how online gambling has gradually become more prevalent in Scotland over the past decade, while smoking has continued to become less common, reaching its lowest level on record.


The 2021 Scottish Health Survey main report and data tables can be accessed at

Notes to editors

1. The Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) is the Scottish arm of the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Britain’s largest independent social research organisation. ScotCen aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (

2. The Scottish Health Survey is conducted by ScotCen and commissioned by the Scottish Government Health Directorates to provide reliable information on the health, and factors related to health, of people living in Scotland that cannot be obtained from other sources. The survey has been designed to provide data on the health of adults (aged 16 and over) and children (aged 0-15) living in private households in Scotland annually.

3. In the latest survey, 4,557 adults and 1,600 children took part in the survey between April and December 2021. Interviews were conducted by telephone, because of the impacts of COVID-19, so no physical measurements were taken. Following the survey, respondents were asked to complete online food intake recalls to get a more complete picture of people’s diet.

4. Changes in the survey methodology should be borne in mind when reviewing 2021 data with previous surveys.

5. Trends in wellbeing were measured using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS). WEMWBS scores range from 14 to 70. Higher scores indicate greater wellbeing. Trends in mental health are also updated for adults including the General Health Questionnaire 12 (GHQ-12) and CIS-R anxiety and depression scores. A GHQ-12 score of four or more is indicative of a possible psychiatric disorder.