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released: 29 Mar 2012 author: AIHW media release

Chronic diseases are responsible for a large portion of the disease burden in Australia, and many are highly preventable by reducing known risk factors. This report shows that: ~Most people have at least one risk factor and more than 90% do not consume enough vegetables. ~Social disadvantage is associated with risky health behaviours. ~Nearly 60%of Australians do not undertake sufficient levels of physical activity, and many of us (almost 80%) usually spend 3 or more hours sitting during our leisure time.

ISBN 978-1-74249-283-4; Cat. no. PHE 157; 124pp.; $46

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The prevention of chronic disease is a major health priority of Australian, state and territory governments. Over the last few years large investments have been made to improve healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as increasing physical activity and improving diet, as well as reducing risky behaviours, such as smoking and excess body weight.

This report examines negative health determinants, known as risk factors, and provides insights into their prevalence. It examines the most common combinations of risk factors in the community, and highlights the potential for lifestyle behaviour changes that may lead to health gains for individuals and the population.

It provides the most comprehensive picture to date of Australian lifestyle behaviours that can contribute to chronic disease.

Key findings

Prevalence of risk factors is high: Overall, most people have at least one risk factor. Most (just over 90%) fail to consume the recommended amounts of vegetables each day and about 50% do not consume the recommended amounts of fruit. This is important because people with low intakes of fruit and vegetables have higher risks of certain chronic diseases.

Almost 60% of Australians do not undertake sufficient physical activity to incur health benefits, such as maintaining healthy body weight and a healthy musculoskeletal system. Sufficient activity is defined as at least 150 minutes in 1 week over at least 5 sessions.

A sedentary lifestyle is increasingly recognised as being detrimental to health, as it can contribute to many chronic diseases as well as an increased risk of mortality. More than 80% of Australians spend more than 3 hours each day sitting during their leisure time, regardless of whether they undertake sufficient physical activity.

More risk factors can mean more chronic disease: More males than females have five or more risk factors (17% compared with 11%). This analysis shows that as the number of risk factors increases, so does the likelihood of having some chronic diseases. For example, males with five or more risk factors are three times more likely to report chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than males with two or fewer risk factors. Females with five or more risk factors are three times more likely to report stroke, and two and a half times more likely to report depression, than females with two or fewer risk factors.

Common combinations of risk factors: Looking at what combinations of risk factors people have can assist those who advise about lifestyle behaviours. This report shows that those who consume alcohol at risky levels are more likely to report daily smoking than those who don’t. Daily smoking is also more commonly reported by those who have insufficient levels of physical activity. For people who are obese, high blood pressure is more common as a co-risk factor than for people who are not obese.

Social gradient with risk factor behaviours: The analysis shows that people who live in areas of more socioeconomic disadvantage are more likely to take part in risky health behaviours, and this is also true for combinations of risk factor behaviours.

Recommended citation

AIHW 2012. Risk factors contributing to chronic disease. Cat. no. PHE 157. Canberra: AIHW.

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