Social and economic tolls higher for families of children with chronic diseases

Chronic disease can cause significant burdens among Australia's children, says a new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) bulletin.

The bulletin, Selected chronic diseases among Australia's children, presents information on the incidence, prevalence and trends for three of the major chronic diseases among children-asthma, diabetes and cancer.

The bulletin highlights asthma as the most common chronic disease among Australian children aged 0-14 years. In 2002-03, it was the most common reason for hospitalisation for children in that age group.

Meredith Bryant of the AIHW's Children Youth and Families Unit said asthma was also a common cause of school absences, with 24% of children missing a day of school within the last two weeks, compared with 16% of children without asthma.

Diabetes is on the rise among Australian children, although the total number of cases is still relatively small.

'Research has identified many risk factors associated with the development of childhood chronic disease, but very few are modifiable risk factors. The exception is Type 2 diabetes, which is associated with modifiable factors that include being overweight or obese,' said Ms Bryant.

While Type 1 diabetes accounts for 98% of diabetes in children, there is evidence to suggest that the incidence of Type 2 diabetes is also increasing.

Cancer, although relatively rare, is still the most common cause of death due to chronic disease among children.

'Fortunately, child deaths due to chronic disease are relatively rare and death rates have been declining over the last 10 years. The death rate from cancer for children aged 0-14 years reduced by over a third between 1994 and 2003.

'Chronic diseases in childhood are significant because they occur at a time when they threaten a child's normal development.
'And because children with chronic diseases are still developing, physically and emotionally, their care needs are very different from those of chronically ill adults,' said Ms Bryant.

The bulletin emphasises that while the majority of children overcome the obstacles that chronic illness presents, it is still important to normalise as much as possible the life experiences of these children, minimising periods of hospitalisation, maintaining contact with family and friends and maximising participation in education and other activities.

2 September 2005

Further information: Meredith Bryant, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1112, or 0407 915 851

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