The most common chronic diseases and conditions affecting the quality of life of Australians today are arthritis (15%), hay fever (14%), and asthma (11%), according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Chronic Diseases and Associated Risk Factors in Australia 2001 also shows that arthritis and related disorders top the list of leading main conditions related to disability among Australians, followed by asthma, diabetes, stroke, depression and emphysema.
Report co-author Dr Paul Meyer said chronic diseases remain significant health problems in Australia-and preventing and treating these diseases are major challenges of the 21st century.
'Long-lasting diseases and conditions such as arthritis, depression, heart problems, diabetes, cancers and lung diseases are responsible for about 80% of the total burden of disease in Australia each year, in the form of illness, disability and early deaths.'
Dr Meyer said demographic and lifestyle factors are the major contributors to the rise of chronic diseases.
'Foremost among the lifestyle factors is repeated exposure to what has been called "the perils of overconsumption and overindulgence", brought on by a complex mix of social, cultural and technological changes, and increased prosperity.'
Dr Meyer said that although an increase in the proportion of people aged 65 and over had contributed significantly to the high prevalence of chronic diseases in Australia, these diseases are not necessarily an inevitable consequence of ageing.
'At almost any stage of life, health can be significantly improved by controlling four major health-damaging behaviours-tobacco smoking, poor nutrition, alcohol misuse and lack of physical activity.'
'This might sound like a well-worn message, but the continuing falls in death rates for coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer in Australia are good reminders of what can be achieved through a combination of lifestyle changes and timely access to appropriate health care', Dr Meyer said.