Young Australians healthy but still taking risks

Young Australians are generally healthy and well, with over 90% rating their health as excellent, very good or good, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), which was launched today at Parliament House in Canberra by The Hon Senator Nigel Scullion, Minister for Community Services.

The report, Young Australians: their health and wellbeing 2007, goes beyond traditional measures of health to include community and family, education and employment, socioeconomic status, social support and environmental factors.

Some of the best news out of the report is that death rates among young people have halved over the last two decades.

'This decrease is largely due to decreases in injury deaths, mainly from transport accidents and suicide, which have decreased by 35% and 40% respectively,' said Dr Indrani Pieris-Caldwell, co-author of the report.

Significant improvements have been seen in other areas too. Asthma prevalence has declined from 16% to 13% between 2001 and 2004 05, and melanoma incidence among young people has declined by 14% for females and 23% for males.

Similar improvements have also been observed in a number of communicable diseases such as measles, rubella, Hepatitis A and B, and meningococcal disease.

'However, hospitalisation rates for some chronic conditions, such as diabetes and Crohn's disease are on the rise', Dr Pieris-Caldwell said.

With respect to education, most Year 7 students met the national benchmarks for reading, writing and numeracy. The proportion of high school students staying on at school until the end of year 12 has more than doubled since 1980. The proportion of young Australians with post school qualifications is also on the rise.

While the majority of young people live with their parents, almost one in three were living away from home. The most frequent living arrangements were as a married or de-facto couple, in a group household or with other related individuals (not their parents). A small proportion were living alone or were single parents.

While significant health gains have been made, the report does highlight areas where further health improvements need to be made, including reducing obesity among young people and increasing their daily fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity levels.

'These issues are particularly critical for young Indigenous people, who have higher rates of death, injury, obesity and some chronic diseases, than other young Australians,' said Dr Pieris-Caldwell.

Nearly a quarter of all young Australians reported having used an illicit drug and almost one-third drink alcohol at levels that put them at risk of short-term harm. Teenage mothers were much more likely to report smoking during pregnancy (42% compared with 17% for all women).

30 May 2007

Further information: Dr Indrani Pieris-Caldwell AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1162 or mob. 0418 271 395

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