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Australians are generally healthy, with the majority feeling positive about their quality of life, according to the latest national report card on health released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

But most Australians also have at least one health risk factor that is likely to contribute to poorer future health.

Australia’s health 2012, launched today by Health Minister Tanya Plibersek in Canberra, brings together the latest statistics and information on health.

AIHW Director and CEO David Kalisch said that while good health is always good news, there are challenges ahead to maintain an overall healthy population.

‘Australia compares well internationally: we enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world—79.5 years for men and 84.0 years for women—our level of smoking continues to fall, and most children are fully immunised,’ Mr Kalisch said.

‘However, there are several areas where Australia compares less favourably. For example, among developed countries, Australia has relatively high death rates from heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.

‘And Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity: the latest figures show, 1 in 4 Australian adults and 1 in 12 children were obese.’

Australia’s health 2012 shows that all Australians have at least one risk factor for poor health, and about 1 in 7 people have five or more risk factors. The most common combination of risks was inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption with insufficient physical activity.

‘Many Australians eat too few vegetables, fruit and wholegrain cereals, and eat too many foods high in fat, sugar and salt. And almost 60% of Australians over 15 don’t do enough physical activity to benefit their health.’

High levels of health risk factors are common among socially disadvantaged people, people with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and those living in rural areas.

‘Most Australians rate their health highly—about 85% of people aged 15 and over rate their health as good or better,’ Mr Kalisch said.

‘The proportion rating their health highly is not the same across all population groups. For example, 61% of people who were unemployed for a year or more rated their healthy highly, compared with 91% of employed people. And the rating generally decreases with age.’

‘In the next two decades, the number of people aged 65 and over is expected to nearly double, and the number aged 85 and over to more than double. This means that healthy ageing is a priority for now, not for the future,’ Mr Kalisch said.

Although many older Australians have good mental and physical health, nearly half of those aged 65–74 have five or more long-term physical health conditions.

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.

Fast Facts from Australia’s health 2012

  • Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Among OECD countries, Australia has the sixth-longest life expectancy for males and females (page 122).
  • Since the late 1970s until very recently, Australia’s fertility rate has been falling and the most recent rate (1.89 babies per woman) is still well below replacement level (page 52).
  • As at December 2011, 91.8% of children aged 1 year and 92.6% of children aged 2 were fully immunised. Among older children (aged 5), 89.9% were fully immunised (page 156).
  • In 2007–08, 46% of people aged 15–64 with severe or profound disability reported poor or fair health, compared with 5% for those without disability (page 110).
  • Coronary heart disease was the leading cause of death for both males and females in 2009, followed by lung cancer for males and stroke for females (page 86).
  • In 2008, about 112,500 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Australia. In 2012, this is expected to rise to 121,500 (page 258).
  • Cancer survival in Australia is generally high compared with most other countries and mortality rates have been decreasing over the past two decades. In the period 2006–2010, the 5-year relative survival in Australia for all cancers combined was 66% (page 262).
  • There is a high prevalence of mental disorders in Australia—45% of Australians aged 16–85 have experienced a mental disorder sometime in their lives (page 273).
  • In 2007–08, based on self-reports, an estimated 898,800 people had been diagnosed with diabetes at some time in their lives (page 298).
  • An estimated 222,100 Australians (1.0%) had dementia in 2011; this is projected to increase to more than 464,000 (1.6%) by 2031 (page 317).
  • Australia is the only developed country in the world to have endemic blinding trachoma (page 307).
  • The most commonly used medicines in Australia are for reducing blood cholesterol, lowering stomach acid, lowering blood pressure, and antibiotics (page 404).
  • Australia spent $121.4 billion on health in 2009–10, up from $72.2 billion a decade earlier (page 468). Of this, the Australian Government contributed 44% and state, territory and local governments 26%. The non-government sector (including individuals through out-of-pocket payments) funded the remaining 30% (pages 472, 473).The largest component of recurrent spending was for public hospital services (31%), followed by medical services (18%) and medications (14%) (page 478).
  • Health accounted for 9.4% of total spending on all goods and services in the Australian economy in 2009–10, up from 7.9% a decade earlier (page 468). Australia’s health spending as a proportion of GDP was slightly lower than the OECD median (page 470).
  • There were 737,400 workers in the health services industries in 2010, up from 599,000 in 2005, and employment grew faster in this sector than total employment for the same period (23% compared with 12%) (page 494).

Canberra, 19 June 2012

Further information:  

Nigel Harding, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1025, mob. 0409 307 671
Jess Cumming, AIHW, tel. 02 6249 5033, mob. 0401 769 793

Full report:  

Australia's health 2012

Australia's health 2012: in brief

Online: Australia's health