2004 health verdict 'very good to very good plus'

Health and health services in Australia in 2004 rate a 'very good to very good plus' according to the nation's two-yearly health report card.

Australia's Health 2004, the 530-page biennial health report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, says reasons for the rating include continuing improvements in life expectancy, falls in death rates from many diseases and health conditions, and high quality health services.

The report was launched today by the Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott, at the opening of the AIHW's two-day 'Vital Statistics Vital Signs' conference, at the National Library of Australia.

The report also shows that while we should be pleased with the overall improvements in health, lifestyle-related risk factors such as insufficient physical activity, obesity and type 2 diabetes are taking their toll, smoking remains a public health challenge, and there is still no evidence that the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is improving.

In terms of life expectancy, often called the 'universal health indicator', Australia is among the best in the world, with an average life expectancy of 80 years, 77 years for men and 83 years for women.

And Australia has continued to see declining death rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer, although these diseases are still the nation's biggest killers. There has been a steadying of the incidence of asthma in children since the early 1990s, and continued improvements in vaccination rates. Injury death rates continue to fall, with the rate of suicide for 15-24-year-old males in 2002 the lowest since 1984.

However, lifestyle factors may limit the extent of further improvements, says Dr Paul Magnus, the AIHW's Medical Adviser and editor of Australia's Health 2004.

'We have seen a doubling of the prevalence of diabetes over the past 20 years, 1 in 5 adults are now classed as obese, 1 in 2 have high blood cholesterol levels and 1 in 5 are still smoking daily.

'Australians are also enjoying the couch too much, with more than 50% of adults not exercising enough to have any real health benefit. About 1 in 6 adults report doing virtually no leisure-time exercise at all.

'At least with smoking we've been gradually moving in the right direction for decades. The challenge, and no-one is saying it is easy, is how to get the nation as a whole moving their bodies more, and eating better.'

In the meantime Australia's ageing population is shifting the dynamics of problems managed and services offered, says AIHW Director Dr Richard Madden.

'Australia's Health 2004 includes a special chapter on the health of older Australians. This age group, currently 12.7% of the total population, is projected to nearly double over the next 20 years.

'The lifespan from 65 onwards covers a large age range and potentially very diverse needs, so in our publication we have resisted treating all people over 65 as one group, and instead have covered the 65 to 74s, 75 to 84s, and the 85 and overs.'

Dr Madden said that 11% of people aged 65-74 and 26% of those aged 75-84 had a severe or profound disability.

'This demonstrates the need for emphasis on healthy ageing as we address issues around health and welfare services for older people.'

Resourcing and performance of health services is comprehensively covered in Australia's Health 2004. Expenditure, workforce issues and use of all types of health services are fully described.

'Overall, the picture that emerges is of a high quality health system serving the bulk of the population well, but under pressure to deliver even more,' Dr Madden said.

'Internationally, Australia's health system rates very well. We need to work hard to maintain and improve our performance, but at the same time keep our difficulties in perspective.

'Australia's Health 2004 coherently describes all aspects of Australia's complex health system and its performance in one volume. It brings issues together in a way designed to inform policy makers, service providers, consumers and interested citizens alike.'

22 June 2004



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