There have been good gains in the health of the Australian population, with the overall burden of disease and injury reducing between 2003 and 2011, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011, analyses the impact of diseases and injuries in terms of the number of years of healthy life lost through living with an illness or injury (the non-fatal burden) and the number of years of life lost through dying prematurely from an illness or injury (the fatal burden).
'We found that there was a 10% fall in total burden, that is, the fatal and non-fatal components combined', said AIHW spokesperson and report co-author Dr Lynelle Moon.
'This was mainly due to a 15% fall in fatal burden-in other words people are not losing as many years from dying prematurely as before-but there was also a 4% fall in the non-fatal burden.'
Among all the disease groups, the largest fall in the fatal burden was seen in cardiovascular diseases, where rates fell by nearly one-third.
'We found that chronic, that is long-lasting, diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, mental and substance use disorders, and musculoskeletal conditions still dominate in terms of total burden, along with injury', Dr Moon said.
'In fact, these 5 disease groups combined, accounted for around two-thirds of the total disease burden-69% in males and 62% in females.'
'In terms of non-fatal burden only, mental and substance use disorders along with musculoskeletal conditions had the greatest impact, accounting for nearly one-half of the total non-fatal burden between them.'
The report found that about one-third of the disease burden experienced by the population could be prevented by removing exposure to risk factors such as tobacco use, high body weight, alcohol use, physical inactivity and high blood pressure.
Rates of disease burden were generally similar across all states and territories, except for the Northern Territory, where the overall rate was around 1.5 times that of other jurisdictions.
'If all socioeconomic groups in Australia had the same burden as the most well-off socioeconomic group, a 21% reduction in the overall burden could be achieved', Dr Moon said.
'Similarly, a 4% reduction could be achieved if all remoteness areas experienced the same burden as the major cities.'
The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.