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Chronic diseases are responsible for a large portion of the disease burden in Australia, and many are highly preventable by reducing known risk factors. This report shows that:

  • Most people have at least one risk factor and more than 90% do not consume enough vegetables.
  • Social disadvantage is associated with risky health behaviours.
  • Nearly 60%of Australians do not undertake sufficient levels of physical activity, and many of us (almost 80%) usually spend 3 or more hours sitting during our leisure time.

Summary

The prevention of chronic disease is a major health priority of Australian, state and territory governments. Over the last few years large investments have been made to improve healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as increasing physical activity and improving diet, as well as reducing risky behaviours, such as smoking and excess body weight.

This report examines negative health determinants, known as risk factors, and provides insights into their prevalence. It examines the most common combinations of risk factors in the community, and highlights the potential for lifestyle behaviour changes that may lead to health gains for individuals and the population.

It provides the most comprehensive picture to date of Australian lifestyle behaviours that can contribute to chronic disease.

Key findings

Prevalence of risk factors is high: Overall, most people have at least one risk factor. Most (just over 90%) fail to consume the recommended amounts of vegetables each day and about 50% do not consume the recommended amounts of fruit. This is important because people with low intakes of fruit and vegetables have higher risks of certain chronic diseases.

Almost 60% of Australians do not undertake sufficient physical activity to incur health benefits, such as maintaining healthy body weight and a healthy musculoskeletal system. Sufficient activity is defined as at least 150 minutes in 1 week over at least 5 sessions.

A sedentary lifestyle is increasingly recognised as being detrimental to health, as it can contribute to many chronic diseases as well as an increased risk of mortality. More than 80% of Australians spend more than 3 hours each day sitting during their leisure time, regardless of whether they undertake sufficient physical activity.

More risk factors can mean more chronic disease: More males than females have five or more risk factors (17% compared with 11%). This analysis shows that as the number of risk factors increases, so does the likelihood of having some chronic diseases. For example, males with five or more risk factors are three times more likely to report chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than males with two or fewer risk factors. Females with five or more risk factors are three times more likely to report stroke, and two and a half times more likely to report depression, than females with two or fewer risk factors.

Common combinations of risk factors: Looking at what combinations of risk factors people have can assist those who advise about lifestyle behaviours. This report shows that those who consume alcohol at risky levels are more likely to report daily smoking than those who don't. Daily smoking is also more commonly reported by those who have insufficient levels of physical activity. For people who are obese, high blood pressure is more common as a co-risk factor than for people who are not obese.

Social gradient with risk factor behaviours: The analysis shows that people who live in areas of more socioeconomic disadvantage are more likely to take part in risky health behaviours, and this is also true for combinations of risk factor behaviours.

Abbreviations

AAS Active Australia Surveys
ABS Australian Bureau of Statistics
AHS Australian Health Survey
AIHW Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
ASGC RA Australian Standard Geographic Classification Remoteness Structure
AusDiab Australian, Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle (study)
BMI body mass index
BoD Burden of Disease
CATI computer assisted telephone interview
CDRI chronic disease risk index
COAG Council of Australian Governments
COPD chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
cms centimetres
DALY disability-adjusted life year
DoHA Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing
F insufficient consumption of fruit
HBP high blood pressure
IHD ischaemic heart disease
IRSD Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage
K10 Kessler 10 psychological distress scale
M usual consumption of whole milk
NDSHS National Drug Strategy Household Survey
NHMRC National Health and Medical Research Council
NHA National Healthcare Agreement
NHS National Health Survey
NPHP National Public Health Partnership
NPHT National Preventative Health Taskforce
NPHS National Preventative Health Strategy
O obesity
OR odds ratio
PA insufficient physical activity
S daily smoking
SEIFA Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas
V insufficient consumption of vegetables
W a waist circumference that may substantially increase the likelihood of developing chronic disease
WHO World Health Organization
WHR waist-to-hip ratio

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