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2022: The year Australia’s health got worse

The article was originally posted on LinkedIn by Richard Juckes, Head of the Population Health Group. 

Burden of disease analysis is the gold standard approach for measuring population health. It measures the impact of illness, injury and death, taking into account the burden of living with an illness or injury (the non-fatal burden) or the loss of life from dying prematurely (the fatal burden). By converting these to the common metric of the Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY), it allows comparisons of the impact of ill health between different diseases and across time and different population groups.

National burden of disease studies are a major undertaking, bringing together hundreds of data sets spanning the whole health system to estimate the impact of over 200 different types of diseases and injuries. Australia is a world leader in this field.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has been conducting the Australian Burden of Disease Study since 2003, so the latest Australian Burden of Disease Study 2022 gives us a nearly 20-year picture of the evolving health of Australians.

The ABDS 2022 presents estimates of disease burden for 220 causes of ill health, injury, and death for the current year (2022) together with updated results from previous studies: 2003, 2011, 2015 and 2018.

In 2022, 5.5 million years of healthy life were lost to disease and injury. The most striking part is that for the first time since we’ve been doing these studies, the health of the Australian population has worsened. Previous studies have shown progressive declines in rates of health burden from 2003 to 2018. Adjusted for population and age, the burden dropped by 8.3% between 2003 and 2011, then by 2.1% in the 2015 study and by a further 2.7% in the 2018 study. But 2022 shows a 2% increase in the years of healthy life lost.

One reason for this increase was the impact of a whole new disease. This is the first Australian Burden of Disease Study to feature the burden due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 (including long COVID) accounted for 2.7% of the total burden in Australia, causing the loss of 151,400 years of healthy life. This made it the 8th most harmful disease in Australia in 2022. COVID-19 burden was predominantly fatal, i.e. from causing premature death. It was the 5th leading cause of fatal burden and the 21st leading cause of non-fatal burden. Burden from COVID-19 was higher in males than females, and highest in older Australians aged 75–84 years.

Other key findings include:

  • In 2022, slightly less than half of the disease burden was from dying prematurely (48% of total burden), and just over half (52%) was from the consequences of living with poor health.
  • In 2022, cancers were the group of diseases causing the most burden (17%), followed by musculoskeletal conditions (13%), cardiovascular diseases (12%), mental & substance use disorders (12%) and neurological conditions (8%).
  • Coronary heart disease, dementia, back pain, COPD and anxiety disorders were the top 5 specific diseases causing burden in 2022.
  • Large declines between 2003 and 2022 in the burden from dying prematurely at the disease group level can be attributed to a significant reduction in fatal burden rates for cardiovascular diseases (by 50%) and cancers (26%), infant & congenital conditions (23%) and injuries (7%).

Despite the increase in burden in the latest report, Australians are still healthier than they were when monitoring began. The study shows that the health of Australians improved since 2003, with an 11% decline in total burden by 2022. Most of this improvement is attributed to a 23% decline in fatal burden.

The ABDS 2022 includes a new data visualisation on health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE).

For the latest subnational burden of disease estimates and estimates of disease burden due to risk factors, refer to the ABDS 2018 State and territory estimates, Remoteness areas, Socioeconomic groups interactive data visualisations and the ABDS 2018 Interactive data on risk factor burden, published in 2021.

Other reports from the Australian Burden of Disease Study recently published include Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2018, Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018: key findings, 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.

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