A sophisticated analysis of Australia's disease burden

In May this year, the AIHW released its much-anticipated report, Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011. This report, the third national Australian Burden of Disease Study, updates previous estimates of Australia's disease burden.

'Burden of disease analysis is a way to compare the impact of different diseases, conditions or injuries on a population, including both the fatal and non-fatal impacts,' said Dr Lynelle Moon, co-author and Acting Head of the Institute's Health Group.

These studies also estimate how much of the burden can be attributed to various risk factors. 'Overall, this study provides a comprehensive and sophisticated picture of Australians' health,' Dr Moon said.

This information supports health service planning, particularly when responding to the increased burden associated with chronic disease.

'There is also significant potential for extension analyses, including scenario modelling of various policy options and relating it to disease expenditure data.'

Most burden is caused by chronic disease—and much of the burden is preventable

The five disease groups that caused the most burden were cancer, cardiovascular diseases, mental and substance use disorders, musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. Together, these accounted for 66% of the total burden.

Coronary heart disease, back pain and problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, as the leading specific diseases, contributed 18% of the total burden.

The study also shows that around one-third of the burden of disease in 2011 was preventable, being due to the modifiable risk factors included in this study.

'The risk factors causing the most burden were tobacco use, high body weight, alcohol use, physical inactivity and high blood pressure,' Dr Moon said.

Analysis of all dietary risk factors included in the study suggested that they accounted for 7% of disease burden (Table 1).

Almost a decade of improved population health—but not everyone is doing so well

Between 2003 and 2011 there was a 10% fall in total burden—that is, the fatal and non-fatal components combined—after accounting for population increase and ageing.

'This was mainly due to a 15% fall in 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.

There was also a fall of 4% in non-fatal burden during the period.

Despite these improvements, the study highlights large inequalities across socioeconomic groups and remoteness areas (Figure 1).

'We found that 21% of overall burden could be attributed to inequalities across socioeconomic groups, and 4% could be attributed to inequalities across remoteness areas,' Dr Moon said.

Table 1: Proportion (%) of burden attributable to the leading risk factors, for selected disease groups, 2011

Proportion (%) of burden attributable to the leading risk factors, for selected disease groups, 2011

Figure 1: Leading causes of total burden (proportion %; age-standardised DALY rate per 1,000 people), by remoteness, 2011

Leading causes of total burden (proportion %; age-standardised DALY rate per 1,000 people), by remoteness, 2011

View Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011.

For more information about the study, including methods, detailed data tables and video summaries see Burden of disease.

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