Indigenous death rate trends revealed

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander death rates are declining, but have failed to keep pace with declines in the Australian population as a whole, according to a report jointly released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The report, Mortality of Indigenous Australians, is based on data from Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. It reveals that while death rates have dropped slightly among Indigenous males, there has been no corresponding decline for Indigenous females.

One of the report's authors, Dr Joan Cunningham, said that the overall decline 'did not significantly reduce the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous death rates'.

The leading cause of death for Indigenous peoples continues to be cardiovascular disease, with death rates at more than three times those obtained in the non-Indigenous population.

Between 1985 and 1994 there was a decline of almost 2% per year in death rates from cardiovascular disease for Indigenous males, but this was offset by a 2% increase in the female rates.

The report also found that, based on 1992-94 mortality data, life expectancy for Indigenous peoples is still much less than for their non-Indigenous counterparts.

'At birth the life expectancy of an Indigenous male is 14-18 years less than for a non-Indigenous male, with an even bigger life expectancy gap for females', Dr Cunningham said.

Other findings from the report include:

  • Deaths from respiratory diseases were seven times more common than for the non-Indigenous population in 1992-1994, and did not reduce significantly from 1985 to 1994.
  • Deaths from diabetes rose significantly during the 1985-94 period, with increases of 10% per year in males and 5% per year in females. Indigenous men were 12 times more likely to die from diabetes than non-Indigenous men. Indigenous females were 17 times more likely to die of the disease.

23 October 1996

Further information: Dr Joan Cunningham, ABS, ph. 08 8943 2165 or 08 8948 1028 (ah), Dr Kuldeep Bhatia, AIHW, ph. 02 6244 1144 or 02 6288 0657 (ah), or Dr Phil Anderson, AIHW, ph. 02 6244 1125.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, ph. 02 6244 1031, 02 6244 1299 (fax) or your nearest ABS State Office.

Publication: Mortality of Indigenous Australians