Key points

This section presents selected key findings from the report. Also, each chapter from 2 to 8 begins with its own list of key points. Please refer to the index at the back to help you find more detail on these topics.


Life expectancy and death

  • Australia’s life expectancy at birth continues to rise and is among the highest in the world—almost 84 years for females and 79 years for males.
  • Death rates are falling for many of our major health problems such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and injuries.
  • Coronary heart disease causes the largest number of ‘lost years’ through death among males aged under 75 years, and breast cancer causes the most among females.


  • Cancer is Australia’s leading broad cause of disease burden (19% of the total), followed by cardiovascular disease (16%) and mental disorders (13%).
  • The rate of heart attacks continues to fall, and survival from them continues to improve.
  • Around 1 in 5 Australians aged 16–85 years has a mental disorder at some time in a 12-month period, including 1 in 4 of those aged 16–24 years.
  • The burden of Type 2 diabetes is increasing and it is expected to become the leading cause of disease burden by 2023.
  • The incidence of treated end-stage kidney disease is increasing, with diabetes as the main cause.

Health risks

  • Risk factors contribute to over 30% of Australia’s total burden of death, disease and disability.
  • Tobacco smoking is the single most preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia.
  • However, Australia’s level of smoking continues to fall and is among the lowest for OECD countries, with a daily smoking rate of about 1 in 6 adults in 2007.
  • Three in 5 adults (61%) were either overweight or obese in 2007–08.
  • One in 4 children (25%) aged 5–17 years were overweight or obese in 2007–08.
  • Of Australians aged 15–74 years in 2006–2007, less than half (41%) had an adequate or better level of health literacy.
  • Rates of sexually transmissible infections continue to increase, particularly among young people.
  • Use of illicit drugs has generally declined in Australia, including the use of methamphetamines (the drug group that includes ‘ice’).

Life stages

Mothers and babies

  • The proportion of females having caesarean sections has continued to increase over the latest decade, from 21% in 1998 to 31% in 2007.
  • The perinatal death rate of babies born to Indigenous mothers in 2007 was twice that of other babies.

Children and young Australians

  • Death rates among children and young people halved in the two decades to 2007, largely due to fewer deaths from transport accidents.
  • More children are being vaccinated against major preventable childhood diseases, with 91% (the target level) being fully vaccinated at 2 years of age—but only 82% of 5 year olds are covered.
  • Land transport accidents and intentional self-harm accounted for 2 in every 5 deaths (42%) among young Australians (aged 15–24 years) in 2007.

People aged 25–64 years

  • The main causes of death in this age group in 2007 were coronary heart disease for males (14% of their deaths) and breast cancer for females (12%).

Older Australians

  • For older people, the main causes of death are heart disease, stroke and cancer.
  • At age 65, Australian males can now expect to live a further 19 years to almost 84 years of age, and females a further 22 years to almost 87.

Groups of special interest

  • People with disability are more likely than others to have poor physical and mental health, and higher rates of risk factors such as smoking and overweight.
  • Compared with those who have social and economic advantages, disadvantaged Australians are more likely to have shorter lives.
  • Indigenous people are generally less healthy than other Australians, die at much younger ages, and have more disability and a lower quality of life.
  • People living in rural and remote areas tend to have higher levels of disease risk factors and illness than those in major cities.
  • Compared with the general community, prisoners have significantly worse health, with generally higher levels of diseases, mental illness and illicit drug use than Australians overall.
  • Most migrants enjoy health that is equal to or better than that of the Australian-born population—often with lower rates of death, mental illness and disease risk factors.
  • Compared with those in the general community, Defence Force members have better health, although their work can place them at higher risk of injury.
  • The veteran community is less likely than the general community to report being in very good or excellent health.

Health services

  • In 2007–08, just over 2% of total health expenditure was for preventive services or health promotion.
  • Between 1998–99 and 2008–09, there was an increase in general practitioners’ management of some chronic diseases, including hypertension, diabetes and depression.
  • Ambulances attended 2.9 million incidents in 2008–09, of which 39% were emergencies.
  • The number of hospital admissions rose by 37% in the decade to 2007–08.
  • Over half of the hospital admissions (56%) in 2007–08 were same-day admissions, compared with 48% in 1998–99.
  • In 2008–09, about 1 in 9 of all prescriptions under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme were for a mental health-related medication.

Health workforce

  • Employment in health occupations is still growing—23% growth between 2003 and 2008, almost double that across all occupations (13%).
  • Between 2002 and 2007, there was a 26% increase in people completing health occupation university courses.
  • The mix of the medical workforce changed between 1997 and 2007
    • the supply of primary care doctors (in ‘full-time equivalent’ numbers per 100,000 population) has decreased
    • the supply of specialists, specialists-in-training and hospital-based non-specialists has increased.

Health expenditure

  • Health expenditure during 2007–08 was $103.6 billion, exceeding $100 billion for the first time.
  • Health expenditure in 2007–08 equalled 9.1% of gross domestic product (GDP).
  • As a share of its GDP, Australia spent more than the United Kingdom in 2007–08 (8.4%), a similar amount to the OECD median (8.9%) and much less than the United States (16%).
  • Governments funded almost 70% of health expenditure in 2007–08.
  • For Indigenous Australians in 2006–07, spending per person on health and high-level residential aged care was 25% higher than for other Australians.