Coronary heart disease (CHD) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are leading causes of morbidity, disability and mortality among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These diseases develop at younger ages and progress faster in Indigenous Australians than in non-Indigenous Australians. This paper explores the prevalence of these conditions and their risk factors in the Indigenous population, as well as rates of hospitalisation and mortality from these 2 diseases.

Prevalence of CHD and COPD is high in the Indigenous population

The self-reported prevalence of CHD is higher among Indigenous than non-Indigenous adults across all age groups. Overall, CHD was 1.7 times higher for Indigenous males and 2.7 times higher for Indigenous females than for their non-Indigenous counterparts in 2004-05.

In 2012-13, approximately 4% of Indigenous adults reported having COPD, which was 2.5 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians.

Prevalence of several risk factors is high in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations

In 2012-13, 44% of Indigenous adults smoked tobacco daily, 62% reported they were sedentary or engaged in low levels of exercise, and over two-thirds (69%) were overweight or obese. Indigenous adults were 2.6 times as likely to smoke tobacco daily as were non-Indigenous Australians.

However, rates of smoking among Indigenous adults are declining

The proportion of Indigenous adults who smoked daily fell from 51% in 2001 to 44% in 2012-13.

Hospitalisation rates for CHD and COPD are higher for Indigenous Australians

The hospitalisation rate for CHD for Indigenous Australians was 2.4 times as high as the rate for non-Indigenous Australians between July 2010 and June 2012. For COPD hospitalisations over the same period, the Indigenous rate was 5 times as high as the non-Indigenous rate.

Indigenous Australians are more likely to die from CHD and COPD than non-Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians were twice as likely to die from CHD and nearly 3 times as likely to die from COPD as were non-Indigenous Australians during the period 2007-2011.

However, CHD death rates are improving

The rate of Indigenous deaths due to CHD fell by 36% between 2001 and 2011.

And rates of chronic disease management are increasing

Government programs tackling Indigenous chronic disease have led to increased uptake of MBS health checks, General Practitioner Management Plans, Team Care Arrangements and Closing the Gap prescriptions.