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Australia’s health 2018: in brief presents highlights from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 16th biennial report on the nation’s health.
Australia’s health 2018: in brief is a companion report to Australia’s health 2018.
63% of Australians aged 18 and over are overweight or obese
Around 45% of Australians aged 16–85 will experience a mental illness in their life
More than 4 in 5 Australians aged 15 and over rated their health as ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘good’ in 2014–15
On an average day 406,000 visits are made to a general practitioner (GP)
Australians are living longer than ever before, but half of us are living with at least one chronic condition, which can affect the quality of our lives, as well as those of our families and carers. Chronic conditions are Australia’s leading cause of ill health and have serious implications for the health system. Many of these chronic conditions are linked to lifestyle factors such as overweight and obesity, insufficient physical activity, tobacco smoking and alcohol use but there are signs of positive behaviour changes, particularly among young Australians.
Good health is important—it influences not just how we feel, but how we go about our everyday lives. Health is more than the presence or absence of disease; it incorporates our physical, mental and social wellbeing.
Our health and wellbeing can be influenced by many things, but generally depend on two main aspects:
Find out more: Chapter 1.1 ‘What is health?’, 4.1 ‘Impacts of the natural environment on health’, 4.2 ‘Social determinants of health’ and 4.3 ‘Health literacy’ in Australia’s health 2018.
When asked about our own health, most of us think we’re doing well. In 2014–15, more than 4 in 5 Australians aged 15 and over rated their health as ‘excellent’, ‘very good’, or ‘good’.
Our life expectancy at birth has increased greatly over the last century. We’re expected to live about 33 years longer than people born in 1890. This places us in the top third of OECD countries for life expectancy.
We can also expect to live these extra years in relatively good health; that is, without the health consequences of disease or injury. Males born in 2011 can expect 1.7 more years in full health than males born in 2003, and females can expect an extra 1.2 years. The number of years we can expect to live with the impacts of illness, disease or injury remained steady for males and females between 2003 and 2011.
Find out more: Chapter 1.3 ‘How healthy are Australians?’ in Australia’s health 2018.
Corresponding with our rising life expectancy, age-adjusted death rates in Australia have fallen by around 70% since the early 1900s.
In 2016, there were 158,500 deaths in Australia. The leading causes of death (overall) were similar in 2006 and 2016.
Coronary heart disease was the leading cause of death for males in 2016, accounting for 13% of deaths. Dementia and Alzheimer disease was the leading cause of death for females, accounting for 11% of deaths, closely followed by coronary heart disease.
Find out more: Chapter 3.2 ‘Leading causes of death’ in Australia’s health 2018.
Looking at the burden of disease is one way to measure the impact of different diseases or injuries on a population. This is done by measuring how many years of life Australia loses to diseases, either due to people dying early, or living their remaining years affected by ill health.
Coronary heart disease is the leading contributor to the total disease burden in Australia for all ages combined, followed by lung cancer for males, and arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions (such as back pain and osteoporosis) for females. Chronic conditions are also leading contributors to the disease burden in Australia.
The leading contributors to the disease burden differ across age groups, reflecting that people experience different health problems at different life stages. Disease burden also differs between males and females across the life stages.
Burden of disease focuses on health loss due to disease and injury. It does not account for other broader factors influencing health, such as the social and economic impacts of ill health.
Find out more: Chapter 3.1 ‘Burden of disease across the life stages’ in Australia’s health 2018.
Chronic conditions are generally long lasting, require ongoing management and have a substantial effect on individuals, their families and carers, and the health system.
One in 2 (50%) Australians are estimated to have at least 1 of 8 selected common chronic conditions: cancer, cardiovascular disease, mental health conditions, arthritis, back pain and problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and diabetes. Nearly 1 in 4 (23%) Australians are estimated to have two or more of these conditions.
Collectively, chronic conditions account for:
Males and older people experience the highest rate of chronic condition hospitalisations and deaths, although the difference between males and females is decreasing over time.
The three chronic conditions that contribute most to the disease burden in Australia are cancer, coronary heart disease and mental illness.
People with chronic conditions are generally less likely than other Australians to be employed, and are generally more likely to have disability and experience psychological distress, body pain and poor health.
Find out more: Chapter 3.3 ‘Chronic conditions’ in Australia’s health 2018.
Cancer is a diverse group of several hundred diseases, where some of the body’s cells become abnormal and multiply out of control.
As a disease group, cancer is the greatest contributor to the disease burden in Australia, accounting for one-fifth (19%) of the total burden.
While the number of cancer cases has been rising in Australia, the rate of people being diagnosed with cancer has been falling since 2008.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for females, and prostate cancer for males. However, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for males and females.
The relative survival rate of people with cancer, 5 years after diagnosis, has improved (from 49% in 1985–1989 to 69% in 2010–2014). Relative survival measures the average survival experience of people with cancer compared with people of the same age and sex in the general population.
However, this is not the story for all cancers. Mesothelioma—an aggressive form of cancer caused mainly by exposure to asbestos—has no known cure and an average time of 9 months between diagnosis and death. Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma incidence in the world.
Find out more: Chapter 3.2 ‘Leading causes of death’, 3.4 ‘Cancer’ and 3.5 ‘Mesothelioma’ in Australia’s health 2018.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke are both chronic conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. CHD is caused by a blockage in the arteries supplying blood to the heart. Stroke is caused by a blockage in, or rupture to and bleeding of an artery supplying blood to the brain.
Coronary heart disease
Many of the risk factors for CHD and stroke can be modified through lifestyle changes and there are also treatment options available for these conditions. Although CHD is the leading single cause of death in Australia, the rate of deaths due to the disease has fallen by 79% since 1980. The rate of deaths due to stroke has fallen by 74% over the same period.
Find out more: Chapter 3.6 ‘Coronary heart disease’ and 3.7 ‘Stroke’ in Australia’s health 2018.
‘Mental illness’ and ‘mental disorder’ describe a wide range of mental health and behavioural disorders. Around 45% of Australians aged 16–85 will experience a mental illness in their life—most commonly anxiety, substance use disorders (especially alcohol use) and mood disorders (especially depression).
Mental illness and substance use disorders are responsible for 12% of the total disease burden in Australia—the third highest disease group after cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Mental illness affects individuals, families and carers. It also has a far-reaching influence on society as a whole, through issues such as poverty, unemployment and homelessness.
Some groups of people experience increased rates of mental illness:
Find out more: Chapter 3.12 ‘Mental health’, 3.13 ‘Eating disorders’, 5.5 ‘Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’, and 5.6 ‘Veterans’ in Australia’s health 2018.
In addition to the disease burden contributed by cancer, coronary heart disease and mental illness, an estimated:
Find out more: Chapter 3.8 ‘Diabetes’, 3.9 ‘Chronic kidney disease’, 3.1 ‘Arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions’, 3.11 ‘Chronic respiratory conditions’ and 3.14 ‘Dementia’ in Australia’s health 2018.
Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol are two lifestyle factors that contribute to high rates of chronic conditions in Australia.
Smoking rates for the whole population have steadily fallen over time, while alcohol consumption has fluctuated in recent years—daily and weekly drinking rates have fallen, but rates of risky drinking on a single occasion have not changed.
The smoking and drinking patterns of Australia’s teenagers have shown some positive signs in recent years; many young people are deciding not to smoke or drink in the first place, while others are older when they first try.
Age when teenagers first smoked a full cigarette and first tried alcohol
Illicit drug use has also fallen among Australian teenagers—those aged 14–19 were far less likely to use illicit drugs in 2016 than in 2001. Cannabis use halved over the period, use of ecstasy and cocaine fell by one-third, and use of meth/amphetamines fell from 6.2% to 0.8%.
Find out more: Chapter 4.5 ‘Tobacco smoking’, 4.6 ‘Alcohol risk and harm’ and 4.7 ‘Illicit drug use’ in Australia’s health 2018.
The care a mother receives while pregnant (antenatal care) is associated with better outcomes for both mother and baby. Almost all mothers (99.9%) who gave birth in 2015 had at least one antenatal visit, 95% had five or more visits and 58% had 10 or more visits.
Health factors and behaviours during pregnancy—such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and being overweight or obese—can lead to negative health outcomes for a mother and her child, during birth and in a child’s early life.
One in 10 (10%) mothers reported smoking at some point during their pregnancy in 2015, down from 15% in 2009
More than half (56%) of mothers abstained from drinking alcohol during pregnancy in 2016, up from 40% in 2007
Find out more: Chapter 4.12 ‘Antenatal risk factors’ in Australia’s health 2018.
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