Chronic disease a leading cause of premature death—and mostly preventable

In 2007, more than 80% of all premature deaths were due to chronic disease, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Premature mortality from chronic disease, shows that of these premature deaths—deaths among people aged less than 75 years—more than 3 in 5 were potentially avoidable.

‘Among men, coronary heart disease was the most common cause of premature mortality, accounting for 16% of years of life lost from chronic disease,’ said Karen Bishop of the Institute’s Population Health Unit.

‘For women, the leading cause was breast cancer, which made up 12% of years of life lost from chronic disease.

‘Chronic diseases—such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental disorders—are usually long-lasting and persistent, often with associated disability.

The report uses potential years of life lost (PYLL) as an indicator of premature death. PYLL are determined by age at death and only take into account deaths that occur before the age of 75.

Among men, lung cancer (8%) and depression (6%) were the second and third most common causes of PYLL. For women, lung cancer (9%) and coronary heart disease (6%) were responsible for the next greatest number of chronic disease PYYL, after breast cancer.

‘The highest number of premature chronic disease deaths were among people aged 65-74 years, while deaths of those aged 55 to 64 contributed to the greatest number of PYLL,’ Ms Bishop said.

More than one-quarter (26%) of chronic disease mortality was experienced by people from the most socioeconomic disadvantaged areas.

‘Among men, the chronic disease mortality burden was almost twice (1.9 times) as high for those from the ‘worst off’ areas as it was for those from the ‘best off’ areas,’ Ms Bishop said.

‘For women, it was 60% higher than for those from the ‘best off’ areas.’

In 2007, the total potential years of life lost amounted to nearly 870,000 years—565,500 (65%) of these years were due to chronic disease.

Canberra, 15 December 2010

Further information: Ms Karen Bishop, AIHW, ph. 02 6244 1085, mob. 0409 466 058

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032