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Health and wellbeing are affected by many factors, and those that are associated with ill health, disability, disease or death are known as risk factors. Risk factors are presented here individually, however in practise they do not operate in isolation. They often coexist and interact with one another.

Behavioural risk factors

Risk factors that can be eliminated or reduced through lifestyle or behavioural changes include:

Biomedical risk factors

Biomedical risk factors may be influenced by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and other broad factors. Biomedical risk factors include:

Environmental risk factors

Environmental determinants of health cover a wide array of topics, and can be split into two broad categories.

  • Social, economic, cultural and political
  • Physical, chemical and biological

Genetic risk factors

Some diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, result entirely from an individual's genetic make-up whereas many others reflect the interaction between that make-up and environmental factors.

There are three broad groups of genetic diseases / disorders:

  • single gene (monogenic) disorders, for example haemophilia;
  • chromosomal abnormalities, for example Down syndrome; and
  • multifactorial diseases, such as asthma.

Demographic risk factors

Demographic factors include age, sex, and population subgroups. Examples of risk associated with demographic factors include:

  • Stroke death rates increase dramatically with age, with 81% of all deaths from stroke occurring among those aged 75 and over.
  • A woman's risk of developing breast cancer before age 75 is 1 in 11, whereas for men the chance is only 1 in 1,426.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are far more likely to die from rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease than other Australians.

Further information