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Burden of disease is a modelling technique that combines multiple data sources to count and compare the total fatal and non‑fatal health loss from diseases and injuries in a population.

Burden of disease quantifies the gap between a population's actual health and an ideal level of health in the given year. This gap is measured using the disability-adjusted-life-year or DALY. The more DALY associated with a disease or injury, the greater the burden. More than merely counting deaths and disease prevalence, the DALY takes into account age at death and severity of disease to count the years of healthy life lost from death and illness. It also attributes this burden to various risk factors.

The results from burden of disease studies are an important resource for health policy formulation, service planning and to monitor population health, including the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011

The Australian Burden of Disease Study (ABDS) 2011 provides updated estimates for over 200 diseases and injuries in Australia and for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population for 2011 and 2003.  

Latest results

  • A report on the burden of disease in Australia for 2011 (including estimates of fatal and non-fatal burden, risk factor attribution) was published in May 2016. This report entitled Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011 analyses the impact of nearly 200 diseases and injuries in terms of living with illness and premature death. It includes estimates for the 2011 reference year as well as revised estimates for 2003.
  • Initial reports on the fatal burden of disease for the Australian population and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population for the 2010 reference year were published by the AIHW in early 2015.

Highlights from Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011

Most of the burden of disease in 2011 was from chronic diseases. Cancer caused the greatest amount of burden (19%), followed by cardiovascular diseases (15%), mental and substance use disorders (12%), musculoskeletal conditions (12%) and injuries (9%). Together these disease groups accounted for around two-thirds of the total burden of disease in Australia.

Proportion (%) of total, fatal and non-fatal burden by disease group, 2011

graphic for Proportion (%) of total, fatal and non-fatal burden by disease group, 2011  

The six leading specific causes of burden in Australia in 2011 were: coronary heart disease, other musculoskeletal conditions (which includes chronic pain in joints, muscles and other soft tissue, and systemic lupus erythematosus), back pain & problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and dementia.

After accounting for population increase and ageing between 2003 and 2011, there was a 10% reduction in total burden. The greatest reductions were seen in fatal burden and for total burden due to cardiovascular diseases.

About a third of the burden experienced by the population could be prevented by reducing the exposure to modifiable risk factors. The risk factors causing the most burden were tobacco use, high body mass, alcohol use, physical inactivity and high blood pressure.

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View the AIHW Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011 presentations

These presentations explain information used in Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and deaths in Australia 2011.

burden-of-disease-videos on youtube

Still to come

  • Analysis from Indigenous component of the ABDS 2011 will be covered in a separate report, expected to be published in the second half of 2016.
  • A report explaining the methods used within ABDS 2011 is expected to be published in the second half of 2016.

For more information

Contact the Australian Burden of Disease Unit

Email: .