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Asthma will continue to rank as one of the major causes of disease burden in Australia for the next two decades, with substantial impacts on both individuals and the community, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

'This burden is particularly heavy for children - asthma is the leading cause of burden of disease among children, ahead of anxiety and depression', said Prof Guy Marks of the AIHW's Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring.

'In fact around 61% of the total burden of asthma in the community is borne by children aged 0 to 14 years. For this age group asthma is more a burden for boys than for girls, but from age 15 onwards, women bear a heavier burden due to asthma.'

'Most of the impact of asthma is on physical functioning and on the ability to perform social roles, leading to lost years of healthy life, and sometimes, sadly, lost years of life', Prof Marks said.

'There are several ways to estimate the burden of disease but in this report we used disability-adjusted life years or DALYs to quantify the burden of asthma.'

One DALY represents one lost year of healthy life due to disability or premature death.

The report found that overall, in 2003, the equivalent of 63,100 years of healthy life were lost due to asthma-59,054 of these due to years lived with disability and 4,045 due to premature death.

Among children, asthma contributed over 17% of total disability-adjusted life years. Anxiety and depression, the next highest contributor to disease burden in children, came in at just over 11%.

Asthma was the eleventh-leading contributor to the overall burden of disease in Australia, accounting for more than 2% of the total number of disability-adjusted life years.

Chronic respiratory disease, which includes asthma, was the fourth-leading contributor to the Indigenous health gap in the burden of non-communicable conditions.

'It accounted for 9% of the gap, behind cardiovascular disease (23%), diabetes (12%) and mental disorders (12%),' Prof Marks said.

'Two key strategies likely to lead to reduced burden of disease attributable to asthma are a written asthma action plan and regular use of medications,' Prof Marks said.

The report, Burden of disease due to asthma in Australia 2003, summarises the asthma-related findings of two key AIHW reports - The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003 and The burden of disease and injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples 2003.

Tuesday 01 September 2009

Further information: Prof Guy Marks, AIHW, tel. 02 9411 0466; mob. 0419 251565

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1032.

Availability: Check the AIHW Publications area for the availability of Burden of disease due to asthma in Australia 2003