Health impact of coronary heart disease decreases, but still has the highest disease burden for Australians

This media release contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to data about suicide and self-harm

Australians are losing fewer years of healthy life to coronary heart disease, but it still remains the leading contributor to the nation’s collective ‘disease burden’, a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has found.

The Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2018 measures the years of healthy life Australians lost due to 219 diseases and 40 risk factors. Years living with poor health (the non-fatal burden of disease) or dying prematurely (fatal burden) are estimated using disability-adjusted life years (DALY).

‘Between 2003 and 2018, coronary heart disease had the largest reduction in DALY rate, falling from 21 to 10 DALY per 1,000 people, mainly driven by large declines in people dying prematurely from the disease. However, it remained the leading cause of burden of disease, making up 6.3% of the total burden in 2018,’ said AIHW spokesperson Richard Juckes.

‘There was also a decline in total disease burden from stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung and bowel cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Total burden increased for dementia and back pain and other back problems.’

The latest burden of disease study includes some risk factors that haven’t been analysed previously, including low birthweight &short gestation and school-based bullying victimisation.

‘Low birthweight & short gestation was responsible for 33,672 DALY, or 0.7% of the total disease burden in 2018. It was the leading risk factor causing disease burden for Australians aged under 15 years, responsible for 11% of total burden in this age group,’ Mr. Juckes said. 

‘School-based bullying victimisation was responsible for 5,207 DALY. Despite only representing 0.1% of total disease burden in Australia. It was the 3rd most important risk factor for anxiety and depressive disorders in females of all age groups, behind child abuse & neglect and intimate partner violence.’

The report includes detailed information on disease burden for males and females and in different age groups. Some of the key findings include:

  • Males experienced more burden (53% of total burden) than females (47%). Dying from disease and injury (fatal burden) accounted for more burden in males (61% higher, largely driven by higher male rates for diseases such as coronary heart disease, suicide and some cancers), while living with illness (non-fatal burden) accounted for slightly more burden in females (4% higher).
  • For infants and children aged under 15, the disease groups which caused the most burden were infant & congenital conditions (e.g. pre-term & low birthweight complications), mental health conditions (mainly anxiety disorders, depressive disorders and conduct disorders), and respiratory conditions (mainly asthma).
  • For adolescents and young adults aged 15– 24, the disease groups which caused the most burden were injuries (mainly suicide & self-inflicted injuries), mental health conditions and substance use disorders (mainly anxiety disorders and depressive disorders).
  • For adults aged 25-44, suicide and self-inflicted injuries caused the most burden in men and anxiety was the leading cause of burden in women.
  • For adults aged 45-74 years, musculoskeletal conditions and cancer were leading causes of total burden.
  • For Australians aged 75 years and above, cardiovascular diseases (coronary heart disease and stroke), dementia and COPD were the major causes of total burden.

The report builds on the  Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018: key findings, which was released in August 2021.

Other reports from the Australian Burden of Disease Study released this year include Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018: key findings for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and The health impact of suicide and self-inflicted injuries in Australia, 2019.

Another report, The first year of COVID-19 in Australia: direct and indirect health effects, contains information on the burden of disease from COVID-19 in 2020.

‘Burden of disease research is recognised as the best method to measure the overall impact of different diseases or injuries in a population and is used as an evidence base for health policy, programs and service delivery,’ Mr. Juckes said.

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National Crisis Services:

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A full list of crisis support services is available on the AIHW’s website

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