Chronic diseases affect 15 million Australians

The importance of tackling chronic diseases - conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, which tend to be long-lasting and persistent - is highlighted in a new report which shows that Australians are not doing enough to guard against these diseases.

More than three-quarters of Australians have at least one chronic condition, says the report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Head of the Institute's Population Health Unit, Mr Mark Cooper-Stanbury, noted that the costs associated with these conditions were a drain on the health system.

'In 2000-01 chronic diseases accounted for nearly 70% of the total health expenditure that can be allocated to diseases.

'Common examples of chronic conditions are asthma, which affects about 10% of the total population, osteoarthritis which affects nearly 8% of the population, and depression, which over 5% of Australians experience,' he said.

Chronic diseases can be a problem at all ages, with almost 10% of children 14 years and younger having three or more long-term conditions. For those aged 65 years and over this figure is more than 80%.

'Older people carry a relatively large share of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, but the middle ages are not exempt, with depression, chronic kidney disease and coronary heart disease prevalent in that age group,' Mr Cooper-Stanbury said.

The report highlights that Australians are not doing enough about the lifestyle risk factors associated with chronic diseases:

  • More than 85% of adults are not consuming enough vegetables.
  • Almost 50% of adults are not consuming enough fruit.
  • About 54% of adult Australians are either overweight or obese.
  • Around 21% of adults smoke tobacco.

Compared with major cities, regional areas of Australia experience higher prevalence of many of the risk factors for chronic disease - smoking rates for example are 11% higher in regional areas.

Socioeconomic status also correlates with higher levels of smoking, physical inactivity and obesity. People who live in lower socioeconomic areas experience higher prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, and have higher death rates.

The report, Chronic diseases and associated risk factors in Australia, 2006, focuses on patterns of disease and the prevalence of risk factors across different age groups, geographical areas, and socioeconomic status, and reports on the health services used in preventing and managing these conditions.

16 November 2006

Further information: Mr Mark Cooper-Stanbury, tel. 02 6289 7027 or mob. 0408 417 340

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