Report is 'first step' in facing national health priorities

Australians are benefiting from improved health status in many national health priority areas but there are some disturbing trends, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services.

The First Report on National Health Priority Areas 1996 provides baseline information and underlying trends in the five National Health Priority Areas of cardiovascular health, cancer control, injury prevention and control, mental health, and diabetes mellitus.

The program was established in its current form after the July 1996 meeting of Health Ministers.

The report also outlines a program of national collaborative action in dealing with the priority areas that will enable all States and Territories to adapt proven, cost-effective and positive strategies to their own local conditions.

A summary of baseline and trend information for each priority area follows.

Cardiovascular health (Contact: Dr Indra Gajanayake, 02 6244 1128)

  • Cardiovascular disease, particularly coronary heart disease, is still our biggest killer, but death rate reduction has been dramatic since the late 1960s.
  • Coronary heart disease death rates continue to be much higher among Indigenous Australians.
  • Too many Australians are at increased risk of developing the disease due to cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, overweight and limited physical activity.
  • One in three men and one in four women smoke regularly.
  • Reductions in number of adults smoking have not been matched by reductions among secondary school students.
  • The proportion of adults who are overweight continues to rise.

Cancer control (Contact: Dr Paul Jelfs, 02 6244 1140)

  • Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men (excluding non-melanocytic skin cancer [NMSC]), followed by lung cancer.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women (excluding NMSC).
  • Death rates from cancer have remained stable.
  • Numbers of new diagnoses of cancers have increased generally, but are mainly attributed to population growth, the ageing of the population and improved case detection.
  • Many Australians are at increased risk of exposure to factors known to contribute to the development of cancer-cigarette smoking, fat consumption and exposure to sunlight are among the most prominent factors.
  • Declines in lung cancer incidence and death rates have occurred in men over the last few years; for women, the reverse is true.
  • Declining trends have been noted for colorectal cancer and cervical cancer.

Injury prevention and control (Contact: Dr James Harrison, 08 8374 0970)

  • Injury is a leading cause of premature death in Australia, the predominant threat to life for children and young adults, and is often preventable.
  • Injuries covered by the National Health Priority Areas initiative include road injuries, poisoning, falls, interpersonal violence, drowning, fire, burns and scalds, and sport and recreation-related injuries.
  • Male injury rates are substantially higher than female injury rates, and the gap continues despite large falls in overall injury death rates over the last 20 years.
  • No decline in injury death rates has been noted for Indigenous Australians in the last 20 years.
  • Injury death rates are higher in rural and remote areas, and among Indigenous Australians.

Mental health (Contact: Dr Janis Shaw, 02 6244 1120)

  • The inclusion of mental health in the National Health Priority Areas initiative is recognition of its enormous social and public health importance.
  • The prevalence of mental illness in Australia has not yet been fully established.
  • Suicide rates overall have been declining slowly. Targets for the Year 2000 are unlikely to be met.
  • Contrary to the overall trend, the suicide rate for 15- to 34-year-old men continues to rise.

Diabetes mellitus (Contact: Dr Indra Gajanayake, 02 6244 1128)

  • About 2% of Australians have been diagnosed with diabetes. A similar proportion is estimated to have the condition, but are as yet undiagnosed.
  • Non-insulin dependent diabetes is highly prevalent in some population groups, particularly Indigenous people.
  • Diabetes can result in reduced lifespan, and higher rates of eye, heart, and kidney diseases.

13 August 1997


Further information: Dr Kuldeep Bhatia, ph. 02 6244 1144, or Mraijke van Ommeren, ph. 02 6244 1134.
For media copies of the report (201 pp.) and the summary (35 pp.): Mark McCarthy, ph. 02 6244 1031.
Availability: Check the AIHW Publications Catalogue ( , ) for details.