Indigenous Australians carrying heaviest burden of cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease still ranks as Australia's biggest killer and largest health problem, affecting 3.67 million people a year, with Indigenous Australians carrying by far the greatest burden of illness and death from this disease group.

These facts are included in Heart, stroke and vascular diseases: Australian facts 2004 the latest edition of Australia's most significant report series into the impact of cardiovascular disease to be jointly released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the National Heart Foundation of Australia.

Report co-author, Sushma Mathur, of the AIHWs Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes and Risk Factor Monitoring Unit said Indigenous Australians were more likely to be hospitalised and, depending on their age, up to 10 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the rest of the population. In 2001, one in five had long-term cardiovascular conditions.

'Potential contributing factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, harmful alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, and diabetes are all more prevalent among Indigenous Australians,' Ms Mathur said.

Heart Foundation Principal Executive Officer, Dr Lyn Roberts, said the report shows that despite death rates for cardiovascular disease in the whole population falling by one-third since 1991, general heart health gains have not been translated into improvements for Indigenous Australians.

The report also shows that some unfavourable trends in risk factors in the whole population were accompanied by an 18% rise in the prevalence of cardiovascular disease over the last decade.

'This rise is due in part to the better survival of people with heart disease and in part to increased levels of obesity, diabetes and of those doing insufficient physical activity. However, we have improved levels of other major risk factors in the last decade with a 21% fall in smoking rates for males and 16% for females, and the prevalence of high blood pressure has halved since the 1980s,' Dr Roberts said.

'While this is good news, its important to bear in mind that around a quarter of the Australian adult population still have three or more modifiable health or lifestyle factors putting them at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.'

Over the last decade the incidence of major coronary events has fallen and there have been major advances in treatment, including significant rises in the use of prescription drugs, which have also been instrumental in improving cardiovascular health outcomes.

5 May 2004

Media inquiries:

Nigel Harding, AIHW, tel (02) 6244 1025 or 0409 307 671 OR
Janine Martin, AIHW, tel (02) 6244 1012 or 0431 961 686;
Tanya Sarina, NHFA, tel (02) 9219 2477 or 0402 209 078

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032