There were 4.5 million years lost to premature death or living with illness in Australia in 2011. This was based on an analyses of the impact of nearly 200 diseases and injuries in terms of their fatal and non-fatal burden for the Australian population.

Most of the burden was from chronic diseases and injuries. The five disease groups that caused the most burden in 2011 were cancer (19%), cardiovascular diseases (15%), mental and substance use disorders (12%), musculoskeletal conditions (12%), and injuries (9%). Chronic diseases accounted for 61% of the total burden.

At the specific disease level, coronary heart disease, other musculoskeletal conditions, back pain and problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer caused the most burden.

Large proportion of the burden can be prevented

Around one-third (31%) of the burden of disease in 2011 could have been prevented by reducing the exposure to the modifiable risk factors included in this study. Risk factors that caused the most burden were tobacco use (9%), high body mass (5.5%), alcohol use (5%), physical inactivity (5%) and high blood pressure (5%). An analysis of the combined effects of all dietary risks included in the study suggested that they accounted for 7% of the burden.

Substantial gains in population health

After accounting for population increase and ageing between 2003 and 2011, there was a:

  • 10% reduction in total burden
  • 15% reduction in fatal burden
  • 3.8% reduction in non-fatal burden.

The largest absolute reductions in rates of total burden were for cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal conditions and cancer.

Reduction in the proportion of burden due to some risk factors

There were notable decreases in the burden attributable to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and tobacco use between 2003 and 2011, after adjusting for population increase and ageing. There was a small increase in the burden attributable to high body mass and drug use.

How does burden differ across Australia?

  • Rates of total burden were similar across states and territories, except for the Northern Territory, where total burden rates were around 1.5 times as high as the national average.
  • V ery remote areas experienced 1.7 times the rate of total burden of Major cities.
  • The lowest socioeconomic group experienced 1.5 times the rate of total burden as the highest group. A 21% reduction in burden could have been achieved if all socioeconomic groups experienced the same disease burden as the highest socioeconomic group.