Sir David Carter has delivered his last annual report as Scotland's chief medical officer, arguing Scotland has become 'healthier' since he took up the post in 1996, but accepting it is 'nowhere near healthy enough'.

'We know that terrible inequalities still exist in the health of the most deprived in our communities compared with the better off, ' he said.

'Action must be focused where incomes are lowest - and health is worst. I leave this post after four years with, I believe, real signs that at last we as a nation are taking these issues seriously.'

Sir David steps down later this year.

His last annual report pays particular attention to the health and well-being of families. It shows that in 1999, infant mortality fell to its lowest ever level. Other encouraging signs include an increase in the proportion of children eating fruit, vegetables, pasta and rice, and in the numbers taking regular exercise.

Although the report also suggests people are becoming sexually active at a younger age, Sir David said it was 'encouraging' that more were turning to advisory clinics for help and support.

But the report shows that the number of girls starting to smoke has increased. And despite the 'encouraging trend' in healthy eating, the number of young people eating chips on a daily basis increased. The report also suggests that 3 per cent of Scottish 15year-olds suffer from depression.

Sir David welcomed a number of recent initiatives taken by the government, including moves to tackle smoking, plans to develop a sexual health strategy and projects to combat depression.

But Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Nora Radcliffe said the report showed there were still 'very serious problems' associated with diet, lack of exercise and smoking. 'There is still a great inequality of health between the different areas of Scotland, with people in deprived areas suffering from more serious health problems. Tackling this inequality should be a top priority for the NHS in Scotland.'

1999 Health in Scotland. Stationery Office.£35.