Heart disease, stroke and depression lead Australia's burden of disease

Heart disease and stroke top the list as the leading causes of the burden of disease for men and women in Australia-accounting for almost 18% of the total, while depression and diabetes rank within the top 10.

These facts and more can be found in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's first detailed assessment of the impact of disease and injury - The Burden of Disease and Injury in Australia - launched by Ms Liz Furler, First Assistant Secretary of the Health Services Division, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, at the International Burden of Disease Network meeting in Lorne, Victoria.

The report found that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer (both smoking related diseases) are the third and fifth leading causes of disease burden, accounting for another 7.3% of the total. Depression is ranked fourth (4%) and diabetes seventh (3%), but if other conditions attributable to diabetes and depression are added in both are ranked equal third (5%).

AIHW's Principal Research Fellow, Dr Colin Mathers, said that the disability burden in Australia is dominated by mental disorders. 'Depression is the leading cause of non-fatal disease burden in Australia,' Dr Mathers said. 'Hearing loss and alcohol dependence and harmful use are the second and third leading contributors for men; dementia and osteoarthritis are among the leading contributors for women.'

'Tobacco smoking causes 12% of the total burden of disease in men and 7% in women. The burden of smoking-related disease is rising in Australian women. Physical inactivity is also responsible for about 7% of the total burden of disease, and hypertension over 5%.'

The report adapted methodology developed by the World Bank's Global Burden of Disease Study in order to measure the mortality, disability, impairment, illness and injury arising from 176 diseases and injuries and 10 risk factors using a common metric, the disability-adjusted life year or DALY.

Other findings from The Burden of Disease and Injury in Australia include:

  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of overall burden of disease and injury in Australia (20% of the total), followed by cancers (19%) and mental disorders (14%).
  • The burden of disease is 13% higher for men than for women.
  • For Australians aged 15-24 years: road traffic accidents, alcohol abuse and suicide are the leading causes of disease and injury burden for males; while depression and manic depression are the leading causes for females (21% of the total burden). Heroin is the fifth leading cause for males (7%) and the sixth for females (5%).
  • Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of disease burden in men aged 25-64 years (12% of the total); while depression and breast cancer are the leading causes for women (8% each) in the same age group.

16 November 1999


Further information: Dr Colin Mathers, ph. 04 0792 8523 (mobile), and Mr Chris Stevenson, ph. 02 6244 1041.
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, ph. 02 6244 1032.
Availability: Check the AIHW Publications Catalogue for details.