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While significant improvements in Indigenous life expectancy have been observed in recent years, Indigenous Australians have a life expectancy that is about 10 years lower than non-Indigenous Australians, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Mortality and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians 2008 to 2012, provides an overview of current patterns and trends in mortality and life expectancy among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

It shows that the latest estimated life expectancy at birth for Indigenous males was 69.1, and for females it was 73.7 years.

This was 10.6 and 9.5 years lower than the life expectancy of non-Indigenous males and females respectively.

'There are several factors that contribute to the gap in life expectancy,' said AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman.

'Most significant among them are chronic diseases, with four groups of chronic conditions accounting for over two-thirds of the gap in mortality-circulatory diseases (24% of the gap) endocrine, metabolic and nutritional disorders (21%), cancer (12%), and respiratory diseases (12%).

Circulatory diseases were the leading cause of death among Indigenous Australians between 2008 and 2012 (representing 26% of Indigenous deaths), followed by cancer (20%) and injury (15%).

Between 2008 and 2012, about two thirds of Indigenous deaths occurred before the age of 65. In comparison, 19% of non-Indigenous people died before the age of 65.

'The improvement in life expectancy is driven by declines in mortality. The overall mortality rate among Indigenous Australians dropped by 9% between 2001 and 2012 and the rates from some causes have also dropped.

'For example, mortality rates from circulatory diseases dropped by about 30% for both males and females and mortality from respiratory diseases have dropped by 32%, for males between 2001 and 2012.

'However, while we've seen improvements in death rates from cancer among the non-Indigenous population, death rates from cancer rose from 212 per 100,000 people to 227 per 100,000, between 2001 and 2012 among Indigenous people. As such we've actually seen a widening of the gap in deaths from cancer.'

Between 2008 and 2012, cancer accounted for 20% of all Indigenous deaths with lung cancer, the most common cancer death, accounting for 5.1% of deaths in Indigenous males and 4.7% in females. Lung cancer rates rose slightly in the Indigenous population from 2001 to 2012.

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, 5 September 2014

Further information: Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1146, mob. 0407 068 033 (for after-hours contact only)

Full publication: Mortality and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians 2008 to 2012