Snapshot of Australia’s health – and COVID’s reach

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The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) today released a report card on the nation’s health, including an analysis of those most likely to be affected by COVID-19 and the country’s battle with obesity.

It says that while the virus has a serious effect on the elderly and anyone in very poor health, it also has a big impact on people who may not have been considered to be at the highest risk.

The new data, from the first four months of the pandemic in Australia, found the virus had wiped more than a decade of life expectancy from those who have died from the disease – stripping an average 17 years of life expectancy from every man to die from the disease and 14 years for every woman to die.

The report said:

  • Younger Australians were more likely to be infected by COVID-19, but older people were more likely to die from the virus.
  • The median age of death for people who caught coronavirus was 80.
  • Men were more likely to die from the virus than women.
  • Australians aged 20 to 29 had the highest number of infections; people aged over 70 had the lowest.
  • Women aged 20 to 29 and 60 to 69 were the most likely among females to be infected, while men aged 60 to 79 were the most likely among males.
  • Cases acquired overseas made up the bulk of infections in the study period.
  • Three-quarters of infections picked up in Australia were from close contacts, with one in 10 cases involving an unknown contact.

As Australia struggles to control dozens of virus outbreaks – most of them in Victoria, which recorded 403 new cases to this morning, and New South Wales – the wearing of face masks is now mandatory in the lockdown areas in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.

AIHW deputy chief executive Matthew James said there was a perception that the majority of COVID-19 deaths were among people who did not have a long expected lifespan. However, the Australians who died had lost more years of their expected lifespan on average than those who had died of Australia’s three leading causes of death – coronary heart disease, dementia and stroke.

On the health of the nation generally, the AIHW reports that Australians are living longer. The life expectancy for males born from 2016–2018 was 80.7 years and 84.9 years for females – up from 55.2 and 58.8 years respectively for those born from 1901–1910. Australian males had the ninth highest and Australian females the seventh highest life expectancy at birth among the 36 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in 2018.

In terms of general health issues, first the good news.

The death rate from coronary heart disease has fallen 82 per cent since 1980, although it’s still our leading single cause of death.

About seven in 10 (69 per cent) people survived at least five years after a cancer diagnosis during 2012–2016 – an improvement from about five in 10 (51 per cent) people during 1987–1991.

An estimated 11.6 per cent of Australian adults (aged 18-plus) were daily smokers in 2019 – a decrease from 12.8 per cent in 2016, and 25 per cent in 1991.

And then the bad. Obesity is an escalating issue.

Australia has the fifth highest rate of obesity out of the 23 OECD countries for which data is available. In 2017–18, around two-thirds (67 per cent) of adults and one-quarter (25 per cent) of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Almost half of Australians (47 per cent, or more than 11 million) have a chronic condition such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, asthma or a mental health condition. Many – but not all – chronic conditions are largely preventable, said Mr James, by addressing risk factors such as tobacco smoking, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, insufficient physical activity, poor diet and nutrition and overweight and obesity.

The AIHW also reported on our health system.

It found that on an average day, Australians make 430,000 visits to general practitioners, fill 830,000 prescriptions under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and there are 32,000 hospitalisations.

Over the past two decades, the health sector in Australia has grown faster than the rest of the economy, as well as the population.

“In the 20-year period to 2017–18, total health expenditure in Australia increased from $77.5 billion to $185.4 billion in real terms, and spending per person increased from $4200 to $7490,’ Mr James said.

“As a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP), health expenditure increased from 7.6 per cent in 1997–98 to a peak of 10.3 per cent in 2015–16. It has since declined to 10 per cent in 2017–18.”

Governments funded about two-thirds (68 per cent) of health spending in 2017–18, with funds primarily raised through tax revenue. As a proportion of tax revenue, health spending by governments represented 24 per cent in 2017–18, a decline from 26 per cent in 2016–17 (reflecting strong revenue growth in 2017–18).

Over the past five years, the proportion of health spending funded by individuals declined and in both 2016–17 and 2017–18, personal spending on health reflected less than 0.4 per cent of individual wealth, the lowest proportion since 2000–01.

Between 2014–15 and 2018–19, the total number of hospitalisations in Australia increased by an average of 3.3 per cent – faster than the average population growth of 1.6 per cent over the same period.

Given that many chronic health conditions are largely preventable, are we not taking our own health seriously enough?

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Written by Janelle Ward


Total Comments: 12
  1. 0

    And there I was thinking at 76 I was one of the most vulnerable…..or so everyone keeps telling me. Not surprised the younger ones are most at risk, they don’t seem to understand social distancing….I’ll just keep doing what I’ve always done – keep my distance or wear a mask, and wash my hands a lot. Eating healthily and exercising daily. Works for me.

    • 0

      I am 76 in October too Patti. Plus I agree with you that the younger ones just seem to think that it is only the old blokes like me who will die, and they don’t care or prepare with prevention methods. Young ones are getting the virus and studies I have seen indicate that their organs Kidney, Liver etc. often become badly affected. Maybe for the rest of their life. They won’t say “Who Cares” when they are 60 or 70 years old.

    • 0

      You sound like ideal person

  2. 0

    To put this into perspective and looking at Victoria in particular, there were 484 new cases yesterday out of a population of 6,490,000. That means that 6,489,516, or 99.99% of the population were not infected. Seems it’s easier to find bad news even though that bad news only affects 0.01% of the population.

    • 0

      Take a look at some other countries and work out percentages. USA has been very complacent and see what has happened there. Plus 484 people infected every day will certainly add up over time. Plus now they are trying to sneak into other states. I am not usually a negative person, but this is a recipe for disaster. Reports say the flue in 1919 killed 50 million people. Let us try and prevent that happening again by our lax approach.

    • 0

      Do you understand exponential growth?

    • 0

      Thanks Tarlo, Spanish Flu figures are somewhere between 40 million and 100 million depending on which reference book is available but the constant figure is that the population was 1.8 billion. Using your figure that means that the Spanish Flu killed 2.7% of the population a horrible number. I’m not trying to downplay this pandemic, just pointing out that the media is reporting the totally negative side. I also note that most media can parrot off the numbers affected by the pandemic but are slow to release the figures of those who have recovered.

    • 0

      You know % when you one of them .Keep breading

    • 0

      Amazing what you can do with a shallow understanding of Maths and a pocket calculator, hehe. News tends to focus on things that change, which are not the same as they were yesterday. There’s a reason it’s called NEWs, LOL. So reporting on the people who don’t (yet) have Covid-19 would not be news. It might be factual, but then you should look for a website called FACTs, hehe. By the way, your 0.01% of the population is just on a single day. You get that, right? It all adds up and 0.01% can become 1% and 10% pretty quickly, especially if they can’t keep a lid on exponential growth.
      Basically whichever way you like to call it, Victoria and by extension the rest of the country is now in deeper horse manure then we were a few weeks ago. We need to dig faster and find stronger deodorant!

  3. 0

    When I read “Cases acquired overseas made up the bulk of infections in the study period”, I am reminded that I felt very early on that we should close our international border. I still think that.

  4. 0

    Yes – absolutely. Lifestyle diseases are an absolute curse in Australia and are crippling our health systems.

    Where it is clear that a person’s health issues are self inflicted through lifestyle choices, they should not receive free health care.

    Of course, it isn’t really free – everything costs someone something. People who take care of themselves are supporting those who don’t, too often.

  5. 0

    Covid-19 is a health system disaster, evidenced by the current conditions in Victoria. The majority of cases seem to occur in health facilities and aged persons homes, where victims are unable to escape from an infected person. What is worse is that health officials seem to be in charge of government, issuing instructions and mandating fines for people who do not obey their commands. Meanwhile, they sit on their well paid backsides doing nothing while waiting for a vaccine that may or may not come. Given the amount of chronic ill health indicated in the report, I would expect them, at the very least, to be advising the public on how to improve health and immunity, including ways that don’t require a prescription or cost an arm and a leg. The problem is not the average citizen, but the health system which is dictatorial, doesn’t know what it is doing or where it is going, and doesn’t want anybody else to offer solutions.



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