This summary report on the health of Indigenous Australians is part of a major study known as the Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011. The study uses a technique that assesses and compares the impact-the burden-of fatal and non-fatal diseases and injury on population groups.

The results presented are for Indigenous Australians in the year 2011 unless otherwise stated. For any comparisons between populations or years, adjustments have been made where necessary to account for differences in population size and age structure.

Chronic diseases are the biggest burden

Chronic diseases caused 64% of the total disease burden among Indigenous Australians in 2011. The 5 disease groups that caused the most burden were mental & substance use disorders (19% of total disease burden), injuries (which includes suicide) (15%), cardiovascular diseases (12%), cancer (9%) and respiratory diseases (8%).

The health gap and chronic diseases

Indigenous Australians experienced a burden of disease that was 2.3 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians and a diabetes burden 6 times as high. Chronic diseases as a whole were responsible for more than two-thirds (70%) of the total health gap in 2011.

Much of the burden can be prevented

Reducing exposure to the modifiable risk factors included in this study could have prevented over one-third (37%) of the burden of disease in Indigenous Australians. The risk factors contributing the most to the overall disease burden were tobacco and alcohol use, high body mass, physical inactivity, high blood pressure and dietary factors.

Some important health gains since 2003

Between 2003 and 2011 there was a 5% reduction in the rate of total disease burden in the Indigenous population, with an 11% reduction in the fatal burden but a 4% increase in the non-fatal burden. The largest absolute reduction in the rate of total disease burden was for cardiovascular diseases, mostly due to a fall in the fatal burden.

Reduction in the burden due to some risk factors

Between 2003 and 2011, of the 13 risk factors measured at both time points for the Indigenous population, there was a decrease in the attributable burden due to high blood pressure, physical inactivity and high cholesterol. Conversely there was an increase in the burden attributable to intimate partner violence.

The burden differs across Australia

The Northern Territory and Western Australia had higher rates of Indigenous burden of disease than New South Wales and Queensland (the 4 jurisdictions for which estimates are reported). Large inequalities were also evident across remoteness areas, with Remote and Very remote areas having higher rates of disease burden than non-remote areas.