In general, even as the COVID-19 crisis continues, Australians experience good health and have an effective health system. We can see this through a variety of measures:

  • People are living longer. In 2015–2017, life expectancy at birth (for males and females combined) was 82.5 years. This is up from 81.9 years in 2009–2011.
  • Infant and child mortality rates are down. In 2018, the infant (aged under 1) mortality rate was 3.1 deaths per 1,000 live births—down from 4.2 deaths per 1,000 in 2009—and the child (aged 0–4) mortality rate was 72.9 deaths per 100,000 population—down from 104.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2009.
  • There are fewer avoidable deaths. In 2015–2017, there were 104 potentially avoidable deaths per 100,000 population (age-standardised rate). These were deaths among people aged under 75 that were potentially preventable through individualised care and/or treatable through existing primary or hospital care. This was down from 116 deaths per 100,000 in 2009–2011.
  • Smoking rates are down. In 2017–18, 13.8% of people aged 18 and over were daily smokers. This was down from 18.9% in 2007–08, but has remained relatively stable since 2014–15, at around 14%.
  • Fewer children are exposed to tobacco smoke in the home. In 2019, 2.1% of households with children aged 14 and under had someone who smoked inside the home. This is down from 19.7% in 2001 and 2.8% in 2016.
  • Fewer adults are drinking alcohol at risky levels. In 2017–18, 16.1% of people aged 18 and over consumed (on average) more than 2 standard drinks per day—exceeding the lifetime risk guideline. This is down from 20.9% in 2007–08.
  • Immunisation rates. In 2018–19, 94.2% of children aged 1, 91.4% of children aged 2 and 94.8% of children aged 5 had received all the scheduled vaccinations appropriate for their age.
  • Cancer survival. In 2012–2016, 5-year relative survival for all cancers combined was 69%. (This means that people diagnosed with cancer had a 69% chance of surviving for at least 5 years, compared with their counterparts in the general population.) This was an increase from a 5-year survival rate of 51% in 1987–1991.
  • Heart attacks. In 2017, there were 324.9 acute coronary events in the form of a heart attack or unstable angina per 100,000 people aged 25 and over (age-standardised rate). This compares with 379.2 such events per 100,000 in 2013.

Despite there being lots of positive news, a few things warrant attention:

  • The COVID-19 crisis is still evolving and it, and the economic consequences, are likely to result in a range of both short and long-term impacts on physical and mental health as well as the health system.
  • Poor diet. In 2017–18, 92.4% of people aged 18 and over were not eating sufficient serves of fruit and vegetables each day.
  • More people are overweight and obese. In 2017–18, 66.4% of people aged 18 and over were overweight or obese (age-standardised rate). This is up from 61.1% in 2007–08.
  • Rate of diabetes. In 2017–18, 4.8% of people aged 18 and over had diabetes (age-standardised rate). This is similar to the rate in 2014–15.
  • Deaths by suicide. In 2018, there were 12.1 deaths by suicide per 100,000 population (age-standardised rate). This compares with 10.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2009.
  • Elective surgery waiting times are increasing. In 2018–19, before COVID-19, 50% of patients waited at least 41 days for admission from elective surgery waiting lists. This is up from 33 days in 2008–09 and is likely to worsen with the COVID-19 crisis and restrictions on elective surgery.
  • Fewer emergency department presentations seen on time. In 2018–19, before COVID-19, 71% of emergency department presentations were ‘seen on time’. In other words, they were seen within the time specified in the definition of their triage category. This is down from 75% in 2013–14. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on emergency department waiting times is unclear as yet but is likely to be mixed, with social restrictions likely resulting in fewer presentations overall but additional health measures in hospitals potentially delaying care.

How do we compare internationally?

It can be useful to compare health measures for Australia with those of similar countries. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is comprised of 37 member countries that have developed economies. Compared to other OECD countries:

  • Australian males have the ninth highest life expectancy at birth, and females have the seventh highest
  • Australia has lower rates of deaths due to coronary heart disease than the average for OECD countries
  • the obesity rate in Australia remains higher than most other OECD member countries―Australia has the fifth highest rate of obesity among the OECD countries
  • Australians consumed 9.4 litres of pure alcohol per year for each person aged 15 and over. This is higher than the OECD average of 8.9 litres per person.

Explore Australia’s health performance data by National, State & Territory and Primary Health Networks.

For analysis on Australia’s health more broadly, see Australia’s Health 2020

Learn more about the framework