A 100 year review of health in Australia

Life expectancy in Australia increased by 24 years for newborn males and 25 years for newborn females in the course of a century, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Mortality over the twentieth century, charts for the first time, trends in mortality in Australia over the last century. It highlights major diseases and conditions that contributed to mortality in Australia, and describes the public health successes that have helped substantially lower the death rate, which has fallen by over two-thirds since 1900.

Mr Krys Sadkowsky of the AIHW's National Health Priorities and Environmental Health Unit said, 'A significant success story to emerge from over the century trend analysis is a huge reduction in infant mortality rate.'

Deaths from tuberculosis have also been all but eliminated, and there have been considerable reductions in death rates for stomach and cervical cancers as well.

For males, there has been a marked decrease in deaths from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) since the 1980s, which can be mainly attributed to a large decrease in smoking.

Reductions in smoking have also helped to reduce the death rate from cardiovascular disease.

'Unfortunately, in females, death rates for lung cancer and other smoking-related respiratory diseases have increased since the 1950s,' Mr Sadkowsky said.

In general however, deaths from infectious diseases and respiratory diseases have reduced considerably over the century.

Cancer deaths, which remained at even rates during most of the twentieth century, have recently shown signs of decline.

Deaths from circulatory disease, which increased considerably during the first two-thirds of the century, have also since fallen.

While great strides have been made in many areas of public health, the death rate for nervous system diseases and mental health problems in older people has been increasing since the 1980s. There has also been an increase in death rate for blood poisoning (septicaemia) among older persons since the late 1970s.

The increase in life expectancy has been similar for both men and women. A newborn boy in 1900 could have expected to live on average 54 years, whereas in 2000, he could expect to live, on average, into his late seventies. Similarly, a newborn girl in 1900 could have expected to live until her late fifties, but by the end of the century the life expectancy was into early eighties.

Success stories

There have been some notable successes including

A two-thirds reduction in overall death rates

A 96% decrease in deaths from infectious diseases

A 95% decrease in death rate for children aged 0-4 years (including infants)

An 85% reduction in stomach cancer mortality

An 80% reduction in cervical and uterine cancer mortality

An 80% reduction in respiratory disease mortality

Over two third reduction in circulatory diseases deaths after the 1970s

A 30% reduction in male lung cancer deaths

A 70% reduction in motor vehicle accident deaths since peak in 1970s.

Areas of concern

A seven fold increase in lung cancer deaths for females

Increased death rates for septicaemia (blood poisoning) among older Australians

Increasing death rates for mental health and nervous system diseases

A recent increase in infectious disease mortality

Relatively constant death rate from cancer after adjusting for lung cancer among males.

5 April 2006

Further information: Mr Krys Sadkowsky tel. 02 6244 1059

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.