Community / NHS releases results of wide-ranging population survey – with cost of heating a key concern

Other topics raised in the results include loneliness, physical activity and eating habits


NHS Shetland has published the results from its recent population health survey – revealing a wide-ranging picture of what life in the isles is like.

Among the key figures is that nearly half of islanders feel heating costs are unaffordable, and over half of 18-24 year olds said they had recently felt lonely.

Meanwhile 3.1 per cent of respondents to the survey felt their health was bad or very bad before the Covid pandemic – compared to 4.9 per cent at the time of the survey.

The survey, which was undertaken by the public health department, aimed to understand more about the health and wellbeing of our local communities.

The data the survey has generated will help inform the board and partners about how services can be designed and delivered to improve health outcomes for all.

Before the survey was launched, the department was very aware that previous sample sizes from Shetland in national surveys, for example, were often not large enough and did not reflect local priorities.


So with this in mind, carrying out a localised survey had been an ambition of the department for several years.

Between November 2021 and August 2022, 592 people responded with the overall results representing age, gender and localities of communities in Shetland.

The survey covered two main areas; the first area involved questions about individual characteristics and circumstances, such as the type of housing people live in, use of different types of transport and employment. 

The second area concerned health and wellbeing and focused on various topics such as physical and mental health, habits around alcohol, physical activity and food choices.

Nearly half of the respondents were aged 40-65 years, a third were over 65 and the rest were aged 18-39.

The lowest response rate was among those aged 18-24 years. Almost a quarter of the households that responded included children. 

Become a supporter of Shetland News


The results have provided the department with a representative snapshot of Shetland’s health and wellbeing between 2021 and 2022.

They paint a wide picture of some of the challenges and experiences faced by islanders.

NHS Shetland’s director of public health Dr Susan Laidlaw.

NHS director of public health Dr Susan Laidlaw said: “This survey highlights key areas of people’s lives that may affect their health, such as employment and housing, as well as how people feel about their own health and wellbeing.

“NHS Shetland will use the results of this survey to help develop and improve the services we offer and to work with organisations and communities to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities across Shetland.

“I hope that other organisations will also find the survey results helpful in their planning.


“I would like to thank all those people in Shetland who gave up their time to complete the survey and the team that analysed a huge amount of data to produce such a useful resource.”

The results showed that 44.7 per cent of respondents identified that unaffordable heating costs are a problem. Thirty six per cent of 18-29 year olds also reported concern that rent or mortgage costs are not affordable.

Meanwhile more than half of 18-24 year olds and half of 25-29 year olds reported having felt lonely in the previous two weeks, compared to only six per cent of 65-69 year olds.

A tool called the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWS) was also utilised, which is used to calculate a mental wellbeing score for individuals.

According to the WEMWS the average score is between 41 and 59, and the average score among survey respondents was 45.


The survey also highlighted that respondents’ perception of their general health has worsened since before the pandemic. Over a fifth also reported living in chronic or persistent pain – a pain that continues beyond three months.

Over a third of respondents reported that they have a physical or mental condition or illness lasting or expected to last 12 months or more.

Meanwhile the majority of individuals (34.5 per cent) reported that they were physically active on seven days of the past week. Less than 10 per cent reported that they had not been physically active on any day in the previous week.

But more than 40 per cent of respondents reported that they would be interested in increasing their active travel, and almost two-thirds of respondents said they would be interested in being more physically active.

The majority of households owned, or had use of, two vehicles and only a small proportion did not own, or have use of any vehicle.


Six in ten people reported that they get five to seven hours of sleep each night.

Meanwhile the majority of respondents (24.8 per cent) reported that they usually eat three portions of fruit and vegetables in a day.

Over ten per cent reported that they only eat one portion in a day and a similar proportion reportedly eat six or more portions of fruit or vegetables in a day.

When asked if they felt comfortable with the size and/or shape of their body, the majority (43.2 per cent) of respondents reported that they do. One in four reported that they do not, while over 30 per cent reported that they sometimes do. 

When asked if they had ever deliberately harmed themselves in any way, less than seven per cent of respondents reported that they had.

The survey also touched on smoking, drinking and drugs use. The majority of respondents reported that they have never smoked (57 per cent), while over 30 per cent reported that they are ex-smokers. Less than ten per cent reported that they are a current smoker and under three per cent are e-cigarette/vape users.


Respondents were asked how often they had six or more units of alcohol on a single occasion in the previous year. Just over 40 per cent had reported that they had never had six or more units on a single occasion, over a quarter reported that it had occurred less than monthly, 13.1 per cent monthly, 15.3 per cent weekly and 2.4 per cent daily.

Over two thirds reported that their drinking habits had stayed the same since the pandemic, while equal proportions reported they it had decreased and increased (14.5 per cent).

Less than ten per cent of respondents reported that they had used drugs in the past year, with cannabis, cocaine and painkillers not prescribed for them the most common substances.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.