Leaps and bounds in health, but some groups lag behind

Australia is one of the healthiest nations in the world, taking great strides in many health areas-but there are groups whose health still lags behind, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's latest national report card on health.

AIHW Director Dr Penny Allbon said that Australia's status 'at or near the top of world health had been achieved efficiently, with per-person health spending being in the middle of the health spending tables for developed nations'.

The report, Australia's health 2008, launched today by Health Minister Nicola Roxon at the 'Australia's health 2008' conference in Canberra, shows falling death rates for cancer, heart disease, strokes, and injury.

The report also shows that Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world-an average of 81.4 years, second only to Japan.

Australian men reaching the age of 65 can now expect to live to about 83 years, and women to 86 years-about 6 years more than their counterparts a century ago.

This is partly due to declines in Australia's smoking rates, which are now among the lowest in the world. In 2007, about one in six Australian adults were daily smokers.

Australia is also a leader in vaccinating children, and in vaccinating older people against influenza. Over 90% of children are fully vaccinated against major preventable childhood diseases at 2 years of age.

Most migrants enjoy health that is as good as, or better than, that of the Australian-born population-often with lower rates of death, hospitalisation, disability and disease risk factors.

Indigenous people, on the other hand, die at much younger ages, and have a greater disease burden, more disability and a lower quality of life than other Australians. Despite improvements in Indigenous death rates, the overall gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous rates appears to be widening. However, the gap in death rates between Indigenous infants and other Australian infants is narrowing.

In general, people living in rural and remote areas also tend to have shorter lives and higher levels of illness and disease risk factors than people in major cities. These findings are influenced, but not fully explained, by the relatively high proportion of Indigenous Australians in remote and very remote areas.

Disadvantaged Australians, wherever they live, are more likely to have shorter lives, higher levels of disease risk factors and lower use of preventive health services.

Dr Allbon said it was clear from the report that there was great scope for health improvements through tackling the so-called 'lifestyle' health risk factors.

'In rank order, the greatest improvements can be achieved through reductions in tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, high blood cholesterol and excessive alcohol consumption.'

'The prevalence of diabetes, which is strongly related to these risk factors, has doubled in the past two decades', Dr Allbon said.

'Of similar concern is that 7.4 million adults were overweight in 2004-05, with over 30% of those being obese. And close to 3 in 10 children and young people are overweight or obese.'

'Excessive alcohol consumption not only brings costs in terms of personal health, but tangible social costs in terms of lost productivity, health care costs, road accident costs and crime-related costs that have been estimated at $10.8 billion in 2004-05.'

Australia's Health 2008 selected highlights (by chapter)

  • One in five Australians (4 million people) live with some degree of disability (Chapter 2, page 36).
  • Cardiovascular diseases, cancers and respiratory diseases remain the leading causes of death overall. However, injury is by far the most common cause of death in the first half of life (Chapter 2, pages 43-44).
  • Prison inmates tend to have poor mental health and high levels of health risk behaviours, such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, and unsafe sexual practices (Chapter 3, page 87).
  • Most Australians have access to good-quality drinking water, although some remote Indigenous communities have no organised water supply (Chapter 4, page 120).
  • Unsafe sexual practices continue, reflected in generally increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections (Chapter 4, page 150).
  • Asthma has become less common among children and young adults (Chapter 5, page 206).
  • In 2004-05, 1 in 10 young Australians had a long-term mental or behavioural problem (Chapter 6, page 281).
  • About 85% of Australians visit a doctor at least once a year (Chapter 7, page 315).
  • GPs are doing increasing work on conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and oesophageal disease, and less on upper respiratory tract infections and asthma (Chapter 7, page 322).
  • In 2005-06 over 9% of hospital separations were considered potentially preventable and rates for these separations were higher for people living in more remote or disadvantaged areas. (Chapter 7, page 304).
  • Comparing 2005 with 1997, the overall supply of primary care doctors (mostly general practitioners) was about 9% lower in 2005-but in remote areas the supply was 15% higher. (Chapter 8, pages 394, 444).
  • Australia spent one in every 11 dollars on health in 2005-06, equalling $86.9 billion or 9.0% of gross domestic product (GDP). (Chapter 8, page 396).
  • Health spending per person was 45% more in 2005-06 than a decade before, even after adjusting for inflation. (Chapter 8, page 394, 405).
  • As a share of GDP, Australia spent more in 2005 than the UK (8.3%), a similar amount to Italy (8.9%) and much less than the USA (15.3%) (Chapter 8, page 402).

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Further information: Dr Paul Magnus, AIHW Medical Adviser, mob. 0407 915 851, and Dr Penny Allbon, AIHW Director, mob. 0418 454 924.

For media interviews: Nigel Harding, mob. 0409 307 671, or Belinda Hellyer, mob. 0401 658 465.

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