An Australian born today is expected to live six years longer than an Australian born 30 years ago, but poor health will reduce the quality of life gained.
The findings come from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, which was published on Friday, and also provides new insights into how well countries were prepared in terms of underlying health for the COVID-19 pandemic and set out the major health challenges to overcome the threat of future pandemics.
Concerningly, the threat of diabetes in Australia is rising, accounting for the third biggest cause of increased health loss between 1990 and 2019, and more than half of health loss in Australia is now due to chronic diseases and injury, which are both largely preventable.
According to the GBD study, high blood pressure was the number one risk factor associated with the highest number of deaths in Australia last year. The next biggest risk factors for deaths in Australia in 2019 were dietary risk (low fruit, high salt, etc), tobacco use and having a high body mass index.
Smoking topped the leading risk factors for poor health last year ahead of a high body mass index, high blood pressure and dietary risks.
The Heart Foundation’s Bill Stavreski said Australians had the power to make the decisions that could lead to better health outcomes as they age.
“The good news is life expectancy in Australia is increasing and deaths from heart disease continue to decline,” Mr Stavreski said. “The bad news is that we’re living longer in poorer health and many of our risk factors for heart disease continue to climb.
“These findings show that the top five risk factors for death and health loss in Australia are all leading risks for heart disease – our single biggest killer.
“These are risk factors that are largely preventable and treatable, like high blood pressure, smoking, poor diet and overweight and obesity. What’s more, several of these risk factors are associated with an increased risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19.
“As a nation, we cannot afford to underestimate the impact these risk factors can have on our heart health, our overall health and our ability to combat the threat of future pandemics.
“We’re also concerned to see that diabetes is one of the biggest contributors to increases in health loss in Australia in the last 30 years. People with diabetes are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people without diabetes.”
Recently, Dr Kate Gregorevic, a doctor at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and author of Staying Alive, told YourLifeChoices that the three pillars to improve our health in longevity were good quality sleep, regular exercise and staying socially connected.
Part of the reason for the boost in Australia’s longevity has a lot to do with improvements in our diet.
Author Jan O’Connell, who wrote the book A Timeline of Australian Food, told the ABC that people in the 1920s and ’30s ate a lot of food that we would consider very unhealthy today.
“Heaps of sugar, heaps of meat, lots of tea [with sugar] and bread and butter. Nobody thought of saturated fat being bad for you,” Ms O’Connell said.
In fact, during the Depression and World War II, when meat rationing came into place, “there were people writing in the newspaper saying poor people were going to be restricted to having meat just once a day instead of sausages for breakfast, meat sandwiches for lunch and meat for dinner,” she said.
Are you worried that you may live in much poorer health as you age? What are you doing to ensure that you stay healthy as you age?
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