This section presents a selection of key findings from Australia’s health 2012. Other summary material is in the ‘At a glance’ box at the start of each topic, and in our companion report Australia’s health 2012: in brief.

We are a healthy nation

  • Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world—79.5 years for males and 84.0 years for females, both 25 years longer than a century ago.
  • Most Australians feel positive about their quality of life. In 2007, 82% said they were delighted, pleased or mostly satisfied, 14% said they had mixed feelings, while only 4% felt mostly dissatisfied, unhappy or terrible.
  • Australia’s level of smoking continues to fall and is among the lowest of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, with 1 in 7 people aged 14 and older smoking daily in 2010.
  • In June 2011, most children were fully immunised—92% of 1 year olds, 93% of 2 year olds, and 90% of 5 year olds. This is an improvement for 5 year olds over the past few years, but there has been little change for the younger ages.

But some groups experience poorer health

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people generally fare worse on a number of health measures—for example, life expectancy is about 12 years shorter than for other Australians. And access to and use of health services is often lower—for example, in 2009–10, 36% of Indigenous women were screened for breast cancer, compared with 55% of non-Indigenous women.
  • Many aspects of health are related to how well-off people are financially: generally, with increasing social disadvantage comes less healthy lifestyles and poorer health. For example, in 2010, 25% of people living in the lowest socioeconomic areas smoked tobacco, twice the rate of people living in the highest socioeconomic areas.
  • The further people live away from major cities, the less healthy they are likely to be. For example, in 2009–10, the rate of hospitalised injury cases for residents of Very remote areas (4,299 per 100,000 population) was more than twice that for people in Major cities (1,728 per 100,000).
  • Severe or profound disability often carries an extra health burden: 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.

And there is other room for improvement

  • In 2007–08, almost all Australians aged 15 and over (99%) had at least one risk factor for poorer health (such as high blood pressure or not eating enough vegetables), and about 1 in 7 people had 5 or more risk factors.
  • Comparisons among OECD countries show that Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity. In 2007–08, 1 in 4 Australian adults and 1 in 12 children were obese.
  • Although most babies (96%) in Australia in 2010 were initially breastfed, only 39% of infants were exclusively breastfed to around 4 months, and 15% to around 6 months, the recommended period.
  • The prevalence of diabetes more than doubled between 1989–90 and 2007–08. An estimated 898,800 people have been diagnosed at some time in their lives.
  • The number of people on the organ transplant waiting list continues to exceed the number of available organs. In 2010, there were about 1,770 Australians on the list.

The health sector is busy

  • A typical day in the health sector includes: 342,000 people visiting a GP, 742,000 medicines being dispensed by community pharmacies, 23,000 people being admitted to hospital, and 17,000 people presenting to an emergency department at larger public hospitals, and that’s only part of the story.
  • There was a 51% increase in the number of palliative care hospitalisations between 2000–01 and 2009–10.
  • The most commonly used medicines in Australia in 2010–11 were for reducing blood cholesterol, lowering stomach acid, lowering blood pressure, and antibiotics.

Making it happen: health spending and workforce

  • Australia spent $121.4 billion on health in 2009–10, which accounted for 9.4% of total spending on all goods and services—similar to the average for all OECD countries.
  • Hospitals were by far the biggest area of health spending, consuming $4 in every $10 of recurrent health spending.
  • Cardiovascular diseases accounted for the greatest spending ($7.9 billion or 11%) followed by oral health ($7.1 billion, or 10%) and mental disorders ($6.1 billion or 8%).
  • In 2010 there were more than three-quarters of a million workers in health occupations. This is an increase of 26% since 2005—more than double that of the overall workforce (12%).
  • Employers of health workers across Australia report workforce shortages or recruitment difficulties for many health professions, particularly midwives and physiotherapists.

Helping it happen: health research and information

  • Health and medical research spending comprises 14% of all research and development spending in Australia, and this figure has been climbing over the past two decades.
  • The AIHW contributes to the health and medical research effort by analysing and reporting on data, making data holdings available to other researchers, and developing and promoting information standards for the health sector.
  • Along with other stakeholders, the AIHW continues to develop health data and information, leading to new collections, and expanded and higher quality data collections, which in turn lead to better information on Australia’s health.