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The prevalence of asthma among children and young adults has decreased over the past decade, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Asthma in Australia 2011, was launched today by Professor Guy Marks, Director of the Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring (ACAM) at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.

‘Between 2001 and 2007-08, the prevalence of asthma declined in people aged 5 to 34 years by over one quarter, but remained stable in adults aged 35 years and over,’ Professor Marks said.

The report also shows a decrease in deaths from asthma, with the mortality rate due to asthma dropping by 45% between 1997 and 2009.

‘Despite these improvements, asthma prevalence and mortality rates in Australia remain high on an international scale,’ Professor Marks said.

In 2007–08, the prevalence of asthma in Australia was estimated to be about one in ten— equivalent to about 2 million people.

‘People with asthma also smoke at least as much as people without asthma, despite the known adverse effects,’ Professor Marks said.

Rates of hospitalisation for asthma among adults are higher in Indigenous people compared with other Australians. Also, people living in areas of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to be hospitalised for asthma than those living in areas of higher socioeconomic status and this gap has widened in recent years.

The report includes a focus chapter on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)— a serious long-term lung disease that mainly affects older people and is often difficult to distinguish from asthma. In Australia, smoking is the main cause of COPD.  Among people aged 55 years and over, deaths and hospitalisations are much more commonly caused by COPD than by asthma.

‘However, the good news is that between 1997 and 2007, the death rate attributed to COPD among people aged 55 years and over decreased by 65%,’ Professor Marks said.

The report was prepared by the Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring, a collaborating unit of the AIHW located at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 18 October 2011

Further information: Professor Guy Marks, ACAM, tel. (02) 9114 0466, mob. 0419 251 565

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer (02) 6244 1032

Full report: Asthma in Australia 2011