Multiple risk factors

Of the many behavioural or lifestyle risk factors impacting on health, the World Health Organisation's report on Comparative Quantification of Mortality and Burden of Disease Attributable to Selected Risk Factors identifies five which, between them they estimate contribute around 90% of the total burden of disease in high income country populations. These are tobacco use, alcohol consumption, poor diet, physical inactivity, overweight and obesity. These are the risk factors considered here.

Risk factors are often considered in isolation, and in relation only to specific diseases. However, they may interact, so that having two may have greater effect than may be expected from the effect of each. When two or more risk factors are present in an individual, there is an opportunity to address more than one at a time.

Overall, 98% of the Scottish population (in 2010) are estimated to have one or more of the key risk factors, and 24% have 4 or 5 risk factors. The corresponding figures from the 1998 and 2003 Scottish Health Surveys were very similar (1998 - 97% and 22%; 2003 – 97% and 19%).

Table 1: Number of risk factors present in the Scottish population

Number of
risk factors
Prevalence
(% adult population)
0 2
1 11
2 28
3 35
4 or 5 24

Source: Scottish Health Survey 2010  

Full details of different combinations of risk factors can be viewed for the 2003 (115KB) and 2010 
Scottish Health Surveys.