Population ageing and increasing prevalence of chronic disease have affected the capacity of the Australian workforce. This report complements previous work on chronic disease and participation in work (AIHW 2009) by describing the association between risk factors and both labour force participation and absenteeism. To facilitate comparison with the association found between chronic disease and labour force participation, the combined impact of risk factors and chronic disease status is also described.

Key findings

  • Nearly all (96%) working-age people reported one or more of the following risk factors: smoking, risky alcohol consumption, obesity, physical inactivity, low fruit or low vegetable consumption, high blood pressure, or high blood cholesterol; three-quarters (75%) reported multiple risk factors.
  • As expected, the odds of not being in the labour force for people with risk factors was greater than the odds for people without risk factors; however this result was not statistically significant.
  • Males and females with three or more risk factors had significantly greater odds of not being in the labour force compared with those without risk factors; the odds ratio for males was 2.0 and for females, 1.8.
  • Absentee rates were significantly greater for males and females (4.0 times and 2.5 times as high, respectively) among those with at least one risk factor and at least one chronic disease, compared with those with no risk factors or chronic disease.
  • The net annual loss due to absenteeism associated with risk factors was more than that for chronic disease (112,000 and 57,000 full-time person-years, respectively).