Australia's least healthy regions revealed in government report

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has revealed which Australian states and territories are the healthiest and which are falling behind when it comes to health outcomes.

The AIHW Geographical variation in disease report looks at rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease across three geographic levels: state/territory, primary health network (PHN) and population health area (PHA).

Those three conditions are responsible for the country’s highest ‘burden of disease’ – the years of healthy life lost to a disease. They account for 14 per cent, 2.2 per cent and 1.4 per cent of the burden of disease, respectively.

While common, they are not evenly distributed. For instance, 6.2 per cent of Australian adults report having heart, stroke and vascular disease, but for Northern Territorians the rate is only 1.8 per cent. Conversely, 7.4 per cent of adults in the NT have type 2 diabetes, compared to 5.9 per cent of the national adult population.

At a macro level, Tasmania recorded the highest rates of cardiovascular disease (7.7 per cent) and chronic kidney disease (11.9 per cent), while the Northern Territory had the highest incidence of diabetes (7.4 per cent).

The data also showed where survival rates were lowest, with rates in rural areas substantially lower than in metropolitan areas – sometimes by a factor of 10.

Read: Two biggest heart attack mistakes  

Cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a broad medical term that covers a range of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels and is usually caused by a build-up of fat and cholesterol in the arteries.

CVD is most prevalent in Tasmania but hospitalisations for CVD are more common in Queensland (2600 hospitalisation per 100,000 residents in Queensland versus 2267 in Tasmania).

The highest rates of death from CVD occurred in rural areas, regardless of state.

“By PHA, CVD death rates ranged from 14 to 716 per 100,000 population,” the report says.

“The highest age-adjusted rates were generally recorded in remote areas with less favourable health profiles compared with the national average.

“These areas had higher proportions of elderly in aged care, Indigenous Australians and people living in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas than their respective state/territory.”

Read: The diet that can put type 2 diabetes into remission

Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is characterised by high blood sugar and a lack of insulin. It is typically caused by obesity and a lack of exercise. Around 5.9 per cent of the adult population, or 1.1 million Australians, had type 2 diabetes, the statistics showed.

The AIHW found that diabetes is most prevalent in the Northern Territory with a 7.4 per cent incidence rate, or 1.1 percentage points above the national average. The incidence of diabetes in SA, WA and Tasmania all exceed the national average as well.

An average of 24 Australians die every day with type 2 diabetes listed as the underlying cause. The NT and SA lead the nation in diabetes deaths but once again the real divide is between urban and country areas, particularly those areas with a high Indigenous population.

Death rates range from under 1 per cent in inner-city areas of Sydney and Melbourne to around 10 per cent in rural areas such as Broken Hill in far western NSW and Tennant Creek in the NT.

Read: Keep your kidneys healthy

Chronic kidney disease
This is another fairly broad term that encompasses all kidney conditions that last at least three months and affect the filtration and removal of waste from the blood by the kidneys.

People with the most severe form of CKD, called end-stage kidney disease, usually require a kidney transplant or dialysis to survive.

The AIHW data showed that the incidence of CKD of any kind was most prevalent in Tasmania with 11.9 per cent of the population aged 18 and over reporting kidney troubles.

“CKD-related hospitalisation rates ranged from 952 to 4100 per 100,000 population in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, respectively,” the report says.

The data again paints a grim picture for those in regional areas with death rates due to CKD higher in the bush, but interestingly the data flips when looking at deaths specifically from acute kidney injuries with the highest rates being recorded in metropolitan areas.

Have you experienced any of these health issues? Are you unsurprised that people in regional areas have poorer health outcomes than those in cities? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer



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