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Australia's international ranking for numerous aspects of health is among the top 10 of the world's developed countries, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's latest national report card on health, Australia's health 2006.

The report was launched today by the Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott, at the opening of the 'Australia's health 2006' conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra.

It shows that while we should be pleased with the overall improvements in health, lifestyle-related risk factors such as insufficient physical activity, obesity and Type 2 Diabetes are still a concern. Smoking also remains a public health challenge, and there is still too little evidence that the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is improving.

Australia's health 2006 looks at the health status of the Australian population and the factors that influence it, including health services and expenditure. This edition of the biennial publication also includes a special chapter on the health of Australia's children, and shows that children under 15 years of age are generally much healthier than in previous generations.

'Vaccination rates have improved in recent years and smoking rates halved between 1994 and 2002. However, childhood obesity is still a great cause for concern, as is the increased incidence of diabetes,' said Dr Penny Allbon, Director of the AIHW.

AIHW Medical Advisor and Australia's health 2006 editor Dr Paul Magnus noted that Australia's overall cancer death rates declined by about 14% between 1986 and 2004.

'Australia's smoking rates are already low when compared with other western countries, so with rates continuing to fall, Australia's ranking has improved from the middle third to the best third,' Dr Magnus said.

Australia's international ranking for death rates from coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and transport accidents have also improved markedly.

'There is now much better information in the community about health, and Australia's network of health services has continued to improve, providing prevention, early intervention and better treatment of disease,' Dr Allbon said.

Our international rankings have fallen however, in relation to diabetes (self-reported diabetes more than doubled between 1989-90 and 2004-05) respiratory diseases, and mortality from suicide, even though the overall suicide rate for males in 2004 was the lowest since records began in 1907,' she added.

'The other disturbing fact that continues to pervade the overall health picture is the poorer health of Australia's Indigenous population. Death rates of Indigenous infants remain about 3 times those of other Australian infants, and about 70% of Indigenous Australians die before reaching 65, compared with a little over 20% for other Australians.'

Australia's health 2006 explores many aspects of Australia's complex health system in one volume. It brings statistics together in a way designed to inform policy makers, service providers, consumers and interested citizens alike.

'Overall, the picture that emerges is of a high quality health system serving the bulk of the population well, but under pressure to deliver even more,' Dr Allbon said.

Australia's Health 2006 Highlights:

  • Australians continue to live longer. Babies born today can expect to live for over 80 years on average. For females, life expectancy at birth in 2002-2004 was 83 years and for males it was 78 years. (p.17)
  • Death rates for cardiovascular disease continue to decline, including heart attack and stroke. (p. 54, 64)
  • Australia's overall cancer death rates declined by about 14% between 1986 and 2004 and these rates are low when compared with other Western countries. (p. 78, 79)
  • Despite improvements, cancer is now Australia's leading cause of death among 45-64 year olds and causes more premature deaths and overall disease burden than cardiovascular disease. (p. 52, 131)
  • Mental ill health is the leading cause of the non-fatal burden of disease and injury in Australia. Also, it is estimated to have caused about one eighth of the total Australian disease burden in 2003, exceeded only by cancer and cardiovascular disease. (p. 131)
  • The prevalence of self-reported diabetes more than doubled between 1989-90 and 2004-05. However, between 1997 and 2004, death rates from diabetes were stable for males and fell slightly for females. (p. 70)
  • Smoking rates continue to fall, with one in six Australians aged 14 years or over smoking tobacco daily in 2004, compared with seven in 10 men and three in 10 women in the 1950s. (p. 158-9)
  • About one in 12 young people aged 12-19 years smoked daily in 2004, more females (9.1%) than males (7.3%). (p. 159-60)
  • In 2004, about five in six Australians aged 14 years or over had drunk alcohol in the previous 12 months. About one in 12 had drunk at levels that risked harm in both the short and long term. (p. 167-8)
  • The proportion of children under 15 years who are overweight or obese continues to rise, according to state-level data. (p. 272)
  • Dementia is the greatest single contributor to the burden of disease due to disability at older ages, as well as the greatest single contributor to the cost of care in residential aged care. It is estimated that in 2004 about 171,000 people aged 65 years or over had dementia. (p. 218)
  • A 2004 survey of prison entrants found that their prevalence of hepatitis C was 25 times as high as in the general population. (p. 250)
  • About 70% of Indigenous Australians die before reaching 65 years of age, compared with little over 20% for other Australians. (p. 226)
  • Death rates of Indigenous infants and children (under 15 years) generally remain about three times those of other Australian infants and children. (p. 278)
  • Average per person expenditure on health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was 18% higher than for other Australians although the general health status of Indigenous peoples was considerably poorer. (p. 291)
  • In 2005, one in 17 of all employed people were in health occupations-nearly 570,000 Australians, representing a growth of 26% since 2000. (p. 315)
  • According to OECD figures, Australia had higher numbers of general practitioners and nurses relative to population in 2003 than did New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. (p. 330)
  • Health service use has increased by almost any measure: medical services up by 4.4% in just one year; hospital stays up almost 9% in the public sector over the last five years and 30% in the private sector; and pharmaceutical prescriptions up 41% over the latest decade. (p. 344, 356, 361)
  • Around 85% of Australians visit a doctor at least once a year, at an average of five GP visits per Australian. However, this includes 4% of people having more than 50 medical services in a year. (p. 342, 343-4).

21 June 2006

Further information: Dr Paul Magnus, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1149 or 02 6244 1168

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.

Availability: Australia's health 2006