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Good health is an important element in a child’s quality of life as it can influence participation in many aspects of life, including schooling and recreation. These indicators focus on general measures of health status, namely the presence or absence of disease, or activity and participation restrictions.
Australia has shown significant progress in reducing infant and child deaths, particularly through the work of neonatal intensive care units, increased community awareness of the risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and reductions in vaccine-preventable diseases through national childhood immunisation programs.
In 2010, there were 1,229 deaths of infants aged less than 1, which was almost three-quarters (71%) of deaths among children aged 0–14. More than two-thirds (69%) of infant deaths were in the neonatal period (first 28 days after birth), of which almost half (48%) on the day of birth. More than half (60%) of all infant deaths were boys. The three leading causes of infant death are perinatal conditions (such as maternal complications during pregnancy); congenital anomalies; and symptoms, signs and abnormal findings (which includes SIDS).
The SIDS death rate decreased by 86% between 1986 and 2003, but has remained comparatively stable to 2010 when 81 babies died (7% of all infant deaths). The vast majority (94%) of SIDS deaths happened in the post-neonatal period (between 29 and 364 days after birth), and almost three-quarters of the babies who died were boys.
In 2010, 507 children aged 1–14 died, and the rate for younger children (those aged 1–4) was twice that for older children. Boys accounted for 59% of deaths. The child mortality rate more than halved between 1986 and 2006 (from 30 to 13 deaths per 100,000 children), largely due to a decrease in deaths from transport accidents. Between 1997 and 2010, the leading causes of death have stayed the same: injuries (34%), cancer (17%) and diseases of the nervous system (11%).
Source: Based on ABS Deaths, Customised report, 2012.
A chronic condition, that is, a physical or mental condition or functional limitation that has lasted, or is expected to last, 6 months or more, can affect children in many ways. These include physical pain and suffering, fear of stigmatisation, school absences or an inability to take part in activities like other children. Three chronic conditions—asthma, diabetes and cancer—accounted for 20% of the burden of disease among children aged 1–14 in 2003.
About 10% (414,500) of Australian children aged 0–14 were reported to have asthma as a long-term condition in 2007–08. This is similar to the prevalence of asthma in the general population (10%). While the prevalence of current asthma among children increased during the 1980s and early 1990s, the trend has since reversed. Between 2001 and 2007–08, it decreased from 13.5% to 9.9% among children aged 0–15 (age-standardised rates).
In 2009, there were 913 new cases of Type 1 diabetes among children aged 0–14, with the rate higher among boys than girls (24 and 20 cases per 100,000, respectively). The overall incidence rate of 22 per 100,000 is higher than in 2000 (19 per 100,000), but has remained stable since 2005. The incidence rate increased with age, and was 2.6 times as high among older children (aged 10–14) as younger children (aged 0–4).
During 2004–2008, an average of 583 new cases of cancer were diagnosed each year among children aged 0–14, and more than half (54%) were in boys. Younger children (those aged 0–4) were almost twice as likely to be diagnosed as older children (aged 5–14) (21 and 12 per 100,000 children respectively). The most common types of new cancer diagnosed were acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, cancer of the brain and non-Hodgkin lymphomas. In 2008-2010, 274 children aged 0–14 died from cancer, which was about 5% of all child deaths.
Note: Refer to A picture of Australia's children 2012 Table B.2 for ICD-10-AM codes.
Source: AIHW Australian Cancer Database 2007.
Disability goes beyond the presence or absence of particular health conditions; it relates to the way in which an individual functions in society and is strongly influenced by environmental factors. Compared with other children, children with severe disability rely more heavily on parents, siblings, other family members and teachers for assistance, and many require formal intervention, including specialist health and disability services.
In 2009, it was estimated that about 288,300 Australian children aged 0–14 had some level of disability, which was fewer than in 2003, when the estimate was 319,900.
Disability was more likely to be reported among boys than girls (9% and 5%, respectively). The most common disability types were intellectual, affecting an estimated 161,600 children, and sensory/speech (119,100 children).
According to the 2009 ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 3.9%, or 163,600, of children aged 0–14 had severe disability. Boys (5.3%) were twice as likely as girls (2.5%) to have a severe disability.
Information about the prevalence and type of disability among Indigenous children nationally is limited, but the most recent data available suggest Indigenous children aged 0–14 are 30% more likely than non–Indigenous children to require assistance with a core activity of self-care, mobility and communication.
Disability has been strongly associated with socioeconomic status, although this relationship is likely to work both ways—it may be that socioeconomic disadvantage contributes to the occurrence of disability, or that the costs and loss of income associated with disability lead to socioeconomic disadvantage. In 2009, the proportion of children with severe disability was highest among low-income households (6.5%) and lowest among high-income households (2.7%).
Notes1. Figures are based on all reported conditions and so children with multiple conditions will be counted more than once.2. The disability types used in the figure above are different to those used in A picture of Australia’s children 2009.
Source: Based on ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2009, customised report, 2012.