Australia’s health 2012 selected highlights

International comparisons

  • Among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, Australia compares well on indicators such as daily smoking, life expectancy and all-cause mortality (page 37).
  • Australia compares less favourably on indicators such as infant mortality, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) mortality, obesity, alcohol consumption and diphtheria, tetanus and polio (DTP) vaccination (page 37).

Life expectancy

  • Life expectancy has increased dramatically over the last century and continues to increase. A boy born in 2008–2010 can expect to live 79.5 years and a girl 84.0 years (page 120).
  • Life expectancy at birth for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is much lower than for non-Indigenous Australians—12 years lower for boys and 10 years for girls (page 120).


  • Fertility rates differ among women of different backgrounds. Indigenous women, women from areas of low socioeconomic status, and women with lower educational qualifications have higher fertility rates than the general female population (page 52).
  • Australian clinics performed more than 65,000 assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment cycles in 2009, an increase of 15% since 2008 and almost 50% since 2005. This represents about 3% of all women who gave birth in Australia in 2009 (page 52).

Mothers and babies

  • The age at which women are giving birth continues to rise: in 2009 the average age of all women who gave birth was 30.0 years, compared with 29.0 in 2000. This mainly reflects an increasing proportion of older mothers (aged 35 and over) giving birth (page 57).
  • Low birthweight is a key determinant of a baby’s subsequent survival and health. In 2009, the proportion of babies born with low birthweight was twice as high for women who reported smoking in pregnancy as for women who did not (page 57).

Growing up

  • Almost one-quarter (24%) of children were developmentally vulnerable (below the 10th percentile) on one or more domains at school entry, which suggests that they may have difficulty in Year 1 (page 65).
  • Sport and cultural activities are a part of life for most Australian children: in 2009, about three-quarters of children aged 5–14 participated in one or both activities outside of school hours in the previous 12 months (page 65).

Caring for others

  • Informal caring for another person is a common and important role. In 2009, 2.6 million Australians (12% of the population) were informal carers of a person with disability or a person who was ageing (page 78).
  • Providing informal care can affect the health and wellbeing of informal carers, with 29% of carers experiencing changes in physical or mental health directly due to their caring role (page 78).


  • In 2010, there were more than 140,000 deaths reported in Australia, with the majority (65%) people aged 75 or over (page 86).
  • Coronary heart disease was the leading causes of death for both males and females in 2009, followed by lung cancer for males and stroke for females (page 86).

Functioning and disability

  • In 2009, 4 million people in Australia (18%) reported having a disability. The prevalence of disability fell from 20% in 2003 (page 110).
  • In 2007–08, 46% of people aged 15–64 with severe or profound disability reported poor or fair health, compared with 5% for those without disability (page 110).

Burden of disease and risk factors

  • Cancer is estimated to be the major disease group causing the greatest burden in Australia, followed by cardiovascular disease. In terms of specific diseases, heart disease causes the greatest burden, followed by anxiety/depression and Type 2 diabetes (page 116).
  • Out of 14 risk factors examined, tobacco smoking, high blood pressure and high body mass accounted for the greatest disease burden in 2003 (page 116).

Human papillomavirus vaccination

  • Coverage of the vaccine in Australia, defined as the proportion of girls vaccinated with three doses of HPV vaccine by the age of 15, was estimated at 70.8% as at March 2011 (page 161).
  • There has been a decline in genital warts and cervical abnormalities among young women since the introduction of the HPV vaccine in Australia (page 161).

Older adult vaccination

  • Of Australians aged 65 or older, 75% were vaccinated against seasonal influenza in 2009. This coverage was similar to that estimated from previous surveys (page 163).
  • Of Australians aged 65 or older, 55% were fully vaccinated against pneumococcal disease (page 163).

Cancer screening

  • More than 1.7 million women participated in BreastScreen Australia in the 2-year period 2009–2010. Participation by women in the target age group of 50–69 has remained between 55% and 57% for the past decade (page 167).
  • Nearly 3.8 million women participated in the National Cervical Screening Program in the 2-year period 2009–2010. Participation by women in the target age group of 20–69 has remained between 57% and 59% for the past 5 years (page 167).
  • About 38% of the 2.1 million people invited to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program between July 2008 and June 2011 returned a completed bowel cancer screening kit for analysis (page 167).

Health literacy

  • The latest available data show that 41% of Australians aged 15–74 had a level of health literacy that was adequate or above (page 182).
  • People living in more disadvantaged areas and areas outside Major cities, and people with poorer self-assessed health status, were more likely to have lower health literacy (page 182).

Dietary behaviours

  • Chronic diseases that can be related to diet, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, are a major cause of death and disability in Australia, and their prevalence is steadily increasing (page 198).
  • Those with higher levels of risky dietary behaviours include socially disadvantaged people, people with disabilities and people living in rural areas (page 198).

Physical activity

  • Australians living in areas outside Major cities, and people who live in the most disadvantaged areas, are less likely to undertake sufficient physical activity (page 203).
  • Participation in sport and physical recreation for Australians has decreased from 66% in 2005–06 to 64% in 2009–10, with the largest decline in those aged 25–34 (75% to 69%) (page 203).


  • In 2007–08, 25% of adults (aged 18 and over) and 8% of children (aged 5–17) were obese; this equates to almost 3 million people (page 209).
  • There is a graded relationship between socioeconomic status and obesity: people who live in the most disadvantaged areas are more likely to be obese than people who live in areas that are less disadvantaged (page 209).

Tobacco smoking

  • Australia’s level of smoking continues to fall and is among the lowest for OECD countries, with about 1 in 7 people (15%) aged 14 or older smoking daily in 2010 (page 221).
  • The proportion of households with dependent children having someone smoking inside the home continues to fall from 31% in 1995 to 6% in 2010 (page 221).

Alcohol consumption

  • In 2010, 1 in 5 people aged 14 and over were at risk of alcohol-related harm over their lifetime, and 2 in 5 were at risk of harm from a single drinking occasion in the past 12 months (page 228).
  • About 13% of recent drinkers aged 19 and over admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol (page 228).

Illicit drug use

  • The prevalence of recent illicit drug use among Australians aged 14 and over rose from 13% in 2007 to 15% in 2010. This included increases in the recent use of cannabis, pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes, cocaine and hallucinogens (page 235).
  • Nearly 1 in 5 secondary students had deliberately sniffed inhalants at least once during their lives; 17% had ever used tranquillisers and 14% marijuana/cannabis (page 235).


  • Cancer is a major cause of death in Australia, although mortality rates have been decreasing over the past two decades. In 2009, there were about 41,500 deaths from cancer, 29% of all deaths that year (page 258).
  • Survival outcomes vary by type of cancer, remoteness from major cities and socioeconomic status. The 5-year survival rate was highest for testicular cancer (98%) and lowest for pancreatic cancer (5%) in the period 2006–2010 (page 258).

Cardiovascular disease

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains a major health problem in Australia despite diminishing mortality and hospitalisation rates. There were an estimated 3.4 million people living with the disease in 2007–08 (page 265).
  • In 2009, more than 3 in 5 (63%) people who had a heart attack survived, compared with fewer than half (47%) in 1997 (page 265).

Mental illness

  • There is a high prevalence of mental disorders in the Australian population—45% of Australians aged 16–85 have experienced a mental disorder sometime in their lifetime (page 273).
  • There is a high rate of comorbidity between different mental disorders and between mental and physical conditions—about 1 in 9 Australians aged 16–85 have a mental disorder and a physical condition concurrently (page 273).


  • Between 1989–90 and 2007–08, the age-standardised prevalence of diabetes more than doubled, increasing from 1.5% to 4.1% of the Australian population (page 298).
  • After accounting for age differences between the two populations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more than three times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to report having diabetes (page 298).


  • An estimated 222,100 Australians (1.0%) had dementia in 2011; this is projected to increase to more than 464,000 (1.6%) by 2031 (page 317).
  • In 2009, about 1 in 5 people with dementia who lived in the community received assistance from informal sources (family and friends) only, while about 3 in 4 received assistance from both informal and formal (organisations or paid help) sources. Very few relied solely on formal support (page 317).

Chronic kidney disease

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is more common than is widely known, affecting 1 in 7 Australian adults to some degree. One in 10 deaths has CKD listed as a contributing factor (underlying or associated cause of death) (page 323).
  • The total incidence rate of end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) is six times as high among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as it is among non-Indigenous Australians, and Indigenous people are eight times as likely to begin dialysis or receive a kidney transplant for their ESKD (page 323).

General practitioners

  • In 2010–11, 125 million GP services totalling $5.3 billion were subsidised through the Medicare Benefits Scheme (page 380).
  • The number of services has increased by an average 2.5% per year over the decade from 2001–02 to 2010–11, and total benefits paid has increased by 7.5% per year (page 380).

Use of medicines

  • In 2010, an estimated 271 million prescriptions were dispensed by community pharmacies, of which three-quarters were subsidised under the PBS and RPBS (page 404).
  • Prescribing of, and expenditure on, medicines is constantly increasing. The number of community prescriptions rose from 180 million in 1996 to 271 million in 2010 (page 405). For the decade to 2009–10, real growth in spending on benefit-paid pharmaceuticals averaged 8.4% per year (page 480).
  • According to a survey of general practitioners, the most frequently prescribed medicines in 2009–10 were antibiotics and pain-management medicines (page 404).

Hospitals in Australia

  • In 2009-10, there were more than 1,320 public and private hospitals in Australia, with about 57,000 and 28,000 beds respectively (page 409).
  • Between 2005–06 and 2009–10, hospitalisations increased by 17%, and at a greater rate in private hospitals (22%) than in public hospitals (14%). The overall increase was mainly due to a 23% increase in hospitalisations for people aged 55 and over, compared with a 10% increase for those aged under 55. For both public and private hospitals, the number of patient days also increased over this period (7% and 13% respectively), however the number of patient days per 1,000 population was relatively stable (page 417).
  • In 2009-10, an estimated $46.3 billion—about 3.6% of Australia’s gross domestic product or about $2,180 per person—was spent on Australia’s hospitals (page 409).

Private health insurance

  • The private health insurance system provided $13.5 billion—almost 12%—of total funding for health care in 2009–10. More than $9 billion of this came from premiums paid by members, and the rest from government subsidies (page 485).
  • Overall, 10.4 million people—46% of the Australian population—were covered by private health insurance at the end 2011, which is the highest coverage since 2001 (page 485).

The health workforce

  • There were 737,400 workers in the health services industries in 2010, up from 599,000 in 2005, and employment grew faster in this sector than total employment for the same period (23% compared with 12%) (page 494).
  • The number of workers in health occupations increased by 26% between 2005 and 2010 (606,900 to 766,800). This was higher than the 12% increase for all occupations (page 494). Growth over this period was highest for social workers (55%), psychologists (53%) and ‘other health workers’ (50%) (page 497).
  • Medical practitioners are not evenly distributed across Australia, with supply highest in Major cities with 392 full time equivalent (FTE) practitioners per 100,000 population. This was higher than the rates of 224 and 206 in Inner regional and Outer regional areas respectively (page 503).
  • The supply of employed nurses was highest in Very remote areas (1,240 FTE nurses per 100,000 population) and lowest in Major cities (997) (page 505).

Health and medical research

  • Over the past 70 years, six Australians have been awarded Nobel Prizes for their achievements in health and medical research (page 524).
  • Health research expenditure comprises 14% of all research and development (R&D) expenditure in Australia, and this figure has been climbing over the past two decades (page 524).