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Of all deaths in Australia in 2012, almost 50,000—or 34%— can be considered premature, according to new data released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). ‘Premature’ deaths are those occurring in people aged under 75 years.

The web report, Premature mortality in Australia 1997–2012, shows that not only were these deaths premature, in half of cases, they were also considered potentially avoidable— that is, preventable or treatable through specific health care measures.

‘The good news is that there has been a substantial decrease in the rate of premature deaths over time,’ said AIHW spokesperson Ann Hunt.

In 1997, deaths among people aged less than 75 accounted for 43% of all deaths, but in 2012, this had fallen to 34%.

The leading cause of premature death in 2010–12 was coronary heart disease, accounting for 10% of all deaths in people aged under 75. Coronary heart disease is also the leading cause of death in Australia overall, accounting for 14% of deaths across all ages in 2010–2012, with 1 in 4 (25%) of these deaths being premature.

Lung cancer accounted for almost 9% of premature deaths, and was the second leading cause. More than half of all deaths due to lung cancer were among people younger than 75.

Suicide was the third leading cause of premature mortality in 2010–2012, accounting for 4.5% of premature deaths, with 92% of suicide deaths occurring among people younger than 75.

‘Unlike chronic conditions such as coronary heart disease and lung cancer, suicide was a leading cause of death among younger age groups,’ Ms Hunt said.

For Indigenous Australians, 80% of all deaths were premature in 2008–2012. The Indigenous mortality rate was higher for both males and females, across every age group.

The web pages are accompanied by 15 fact sheets and 15 General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM) books, looking in greater depth at a range of causes of premature mortality, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, accidental poisoning, assault and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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, 7 October

Further information: Ms Ann Hunt, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1238, mob. 0418 271 395
For media copies of the report: 02 6249 5048/02 6244 1012 or email Helpdesk-Media@aihw.gov.au

Premature mortality in Australia 1997–2012

Leading causes of premature mortality in Australia fact sheets