Australia in top five for smoking less, but also in top five for obesity

Australia is a world leader in reducing tobacco consumption, but is also among the leaders in obesity rates, according to a report released today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The report, Health at a glance 2007 - OECD indicators, is the OECD's fourth report comparing key health data across its 30 member countries (principally the world's developed nations). Australian statistics for the report were supplied by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

For the lowest daily smoking rates by adults, the report shows Australia in fifth place on 17.7%, headed by Sweden (15.9%), the USA (16.9%), Portugal (17.0%) and Canada (17.3%).

Australia has succeeded in cutting its daily smoking rates in half over the last 20 years, from 35.4% of adults in 1983 to 17.7% in 2004. The World Health Organization rates smoking as the second major cause of death in the world.

While smoking rates continue to decline, obesity rates in Australians are high. Australia has the fifth highest adult obesity rate (21.7%), behind the United States (32.2%), Mexico (30.2%), the United Kingdom (23.0%) and Greece (21.9%).

'Given the time lag between the onset of obesity and subsequent health problems (such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases), the growing incidence of obesity in most OECD countries, including Australia, may mean higher health care costs in the future', noted AIHW spokesperson Ms Louise York.

Total health spending accounted for 9.5% of GDP in Australia in 2004, slightly higher than the average of 9.0% in OECD countries. Health spending as a share of GDP is lower in Australia than in the United States (which spent 15.3% of its GDP on health in 2005) and in several European countries including Switzerland (11.6%), France (11.1%) and Germany (10.7%). But our health spending is higher than in Japan (8.0%), the United Kingdom (8.3%) and New Zealand (9.0%).

Australia also ranks above the OECD average in terms of total health spending per person, with spending of $US 3,128 per person in 2004 (adjusted for purchasing power parity), compared with the OECD average of $US 2,759 per person.

'A strong rise in pharmaceutical spending has been one of the factors behind the rise in total health spending in Australia as well as in many other OECD countries', Ms York said.

13 November 2007

Information: Ms Louise York, AIHW, tel. +61 2 6244 1271.