International Health — How Australia Compares examines Australia's international standing for a range of different health indicators. It is generally recognised that Australians enjoy good health, that Australia is one of the healthiest countries in the world, and that the health of its people, by and large, continues to improve (AIHW 1998).

Health, however, is difficult to conceptualise and measure. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'. Measurement of these aspects of health and their international comparisons have proved problematic. There is no single indicator that summarises health status. The range of indicators included in this publication paint Australia's health status with a broad brush only, but do allow judgment to be made as to whether or not Australia enjoys the status of 'one of the healthiest countries in the world'.

Generally the picture is favourable but, as always, there is room for improvement. For example, Australia lags behind a number of countries for life expectancy, both in total number of years and years free from disability. It ranks in the middle of a "league table" for infant mortality and is placed behind several countries for each of our National Health Priority Areas — cardiovascular health, cancer control, injury prevention and control, mental health and diabetes. Although not examined here, several segments of Australian society, including Indigenous people, do not enjoy good health at all (AIHW 1998).