Death rates fall but cardiovascular disease still major killer

Cardiovascular disease continues to be one of Australia's major killers, although death rates are falling across all age groups for both men and women, according to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report to be released today.

Surveillance of Cardiovascular Mortality in Australia 1985-1996 shows that heart attacks, strokes and related diseases, accounted for almost 54,000 (42%) of all deaths in 1996. According to the report's co-author, Sushma Mathur, cardiovascular disease now accounts for fewer deaths per million population compared to the 1980s.

'Between 1985 and 1996 death rates from cardiovascular disease have fallen by 3.7% per year for men and 3.6% per year for women. The 45 to 59 year age group experienced the most rapid decline of more than 6% per year,' Ms Mathur said.

'However, large numbers of Australians remain at a high risk of cardiovascular disease through smoking cigarettes, having high blood pressure and cholesterol, being overweight and not doing enough exercise.'

The report also shows that Indigenous Australians die from cardiovascular diseases at twice the rate of non-Indigenous Australians.

'In the 25 to 64 age group, Indigenous Australians had cardiovascular death rates of 6 and 9 times higher than that of non-Indigenous men and women,' Ms Mathur said.

'Cardiovascular death rates among Indigenous women have fallen at a rate of 5.2% per year during 1991 to 1996, but there has been no improvement in those rates among Indigenous men.

'There are no large differences in cardiovascular mortality between people living in urban, rural and remote areas in Australia.'

Other finding in the report include:

  • Coronary heart disease continues to account for the majority of cardiovascular disease deaths (55%) although coronary death rates are declining by 4% per year for men and 3.6% per year for women.
  • Stroke is the second leading cause of death from cardiovascular disease (24%) accounting for 12,800 deaths in 1996, and the death rate has been falling at a rate of 3.4% for men and 3.8% for women.
  • Among the States and Territories, death rates from cardiovascular disease are highest in the Northern Territory and Tasmania and lowest in the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia.
  • Across the States and Territories, rates of decline for cardiovascular disease are consistently between 3-4% per year, except in the Northern Territory where the fall in rates is slower. The Northern Territory has a large proportion of Indigenous people whose rates of decline are considerably lower in the 25-64 age group.

27 November 1998


Further information: Sushma Mathur, ph. 02 6244 1171, or Indra Gajanayake, ph. 02 6244 1128.
For media copies of the report: Lena Searle, ph. 02 6244 1032.