Significant health gap between Australians with disability and those without disability

Almost half of Australians with severe or profound disability are not in good health, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report, Health of Australians with disability: health status and risk factors, found that 46% of Australians aged 15-64 years with a severe or profound disability reported poor or fair health, compared to only 5% of those without disability.

‘People in this group had higher rates of all types of long-term health conditions than those without a disability,’ said Dr Xing-yan Wen of the AIHW’s Functioning and Disability Unit.

People with severe or profound disability were more likely to have acquired a long-term health condition earlier in life than those without disability. Some of these conditions were diabetes/high blood sugar level before the age of 25, arthritis before the age of 25 years and osteoporosis before the age of 45 years.

‘About 69% of those aged 18–64 years with severe or profound disability were found to be overweight or obese, compared to 58% of those without a disability,’ Dr Wen said.

‘Many of these health conditions are interrelated, and some are caused or exacerbated by lifestyle factors, which themselves can be a result of the disability.’

Compared to their counterparts without disability, people aged 15-64 years with a severe or profound disability were more likely to do little or no exercise (43% versus 31%), to be current smokers (31% versus 18%), to start smoking before the age of 18 years (38% versus 22%), and are less likely to have never smoked (42% versus 61%).

‘Interestingly, however, when it comes to drinking alcohol, only one quarter of people aged 15 to 64 years with severe or profound disability drank alcohol at medium or high-risk level. The proportion was much lower than that for people without disability, which is about 35%.’

The gap between those with and without a disability is not just seen in terms of physical health—almost half (48%) of people aged under 65 years with severe or profound disability had mental health problems, compared to just 6% of the wider population with no disability.

‘Among people with both severe or profound disability and mental disorders, 14% had behavioural and emotional problems starting in childhood or adolescence—double that of those without disability,’ Dr Wen said.
Given limitations in the data used in the analysis, it was only possible to look at health status for those with a severe or profound disability in comparison to those without a disability. Those with less severe disability were not able to be compared in this work.


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