Burden of disease analysis is a way to compare the impact of different diseases, conditions or injuries on a population. This impact can be broadly divided into non-fatal (living with a disease) and fatal (dying from a disease) effects. These studies also attribute a proportion of the burden to risk factors. Burden of disease studies are useful for monitoring population health, informing health policy and service planning, and as an input to analysing the cost-effectiveness of interventions.

The Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011 responds to a need for updated, comparable evidence on the health of the Australian population, to inform health policy decision making, with national estimates last published in 2007 using 2003 data. This report provides estimates of the total, non-fatal and fatal burden for the Australian population for 2011 and 2003, using DALY (disability-adjusted life year) metric for 200 diseases, as well as estimates of the burden attributable to nearly 30 risk factors. One (1) disability-adjusted life year (or 1 DALY) represents 1 year of healthy life lost, either through premature death or from living with an illness or injury.

Most of the burden of disease in 2011 is from chronic diseases

There were 4.5 million years lost to premature death or living with illness in 2011. The five disease groups causing the most burden were cancer, cardiovascular diseases, mental & substance use disorders, musculoskeletal conditions and injuries; together, these account for 66% of the total burden. Coronary heart disease, back pain & problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, as the leading specific diseases, contributed 18% of the total burden.

Good gains in population health since 2003

After adjusting for population increase and ageing, there have been good gains in the health of the population between 2003 and 2011, mostly from a 15% reduction in fatal burden but also from a smaller (3.8%) reduction in non-fatal burden. The reduction was seen most in those aged 55-89 years.

Large proportion of the burden is preventable

At least 31% of the burden of disease in 2011 was preventable, being due to the modifiable risk factors included in this study. The risk factors causing the most burden were tobacco use, high body mass, alcohol use, physical inactivity and high blood pressure.

Burden differs across Australia and the population

Analysis of burden of disease at the national level may mask health issues for a particular population. The difference in the disease burden among states and territories was most pronounced in the Northern Territory, which had higher burden rates than the other jurisdictions. Large inequalities were also found across socioeconomic groups and remoteness areas. A 21% reduction of burden could be achieved if all of the five socioeconomic groups experienced the same disease burden as the highest group. Similarly, a 4% reduction could be achieved if all remoteness areas experienced the same level of burden as Major cities.