Australia’s health report card

The latest report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveals Australia is generally a healthy nation, but there are some key areas where we could do better.

The two–yearly report card, Australia’s Health 2018, shows that Australia is among the top third of OECD countries when it comes to life expectancy, with girls born in 2016 likely to live 84.6 years, while boys can expect to live to 80.4 years.

Fewer Australians are smoking or putting themselves at risk from long–term alcohol use than in the past, and the country is doing well in terms of preventing avoidable deaths.

More than four in every five Australians grade their own health to be at least ‘good’.

But with a population that is living longer, Australia is now experiencing higher rates of chronic and age–related conditions. For example, older Australians use a higher proportion of hospital and other health services, and 75 per cent of all PBS medicines were dispensed to people aged 50 and over.

Long–term health conditions are common
Half of the Australian population has common chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, a mental illness, or cancer. Importantly, almost a quarter of all Australians have two or more of these conditions.

Many chronic health conditions share common preventable risk factors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and not getting enough exercise. Around one–third of Australia’s ‘disease burden’ is due to preventable risk factors.

About six in 10 adults – or 63 per cent – are either overweight or obese. Carrying too much weight is responsible for seven per cent of Australia’s total disease burden.

Over the past two decades, the proportion of Australians who have a healthy body weight fell, while the proportion who are obese increased. Over the same period, the proportion who are ‘severely obese’ nearly doubled.

AIHW CEO Barry Sandison said that when it comes to obesity, it is not just a case of poor diet or exercise habits.

Rather, a range of factors – biological, behavioural, social and environmental – contribute to the likelihood of a person becoming obese, including the walkability of our cities, rising work hours and increasingly sedentary jobs, larger portion sizes and food advertising.

“Understanding why someone may be obese – or in good or poor health generally – is complex and it’s important to look at the raft of factors across a person’s life that may be at play,’ he said.

Reasons for poor health
The report shows a clear connection between socioeconomic position and health. Compared with people living in Australia’s highest socioeconomic areas, those in the lowest group are almost three times as likely to smoke or have diabetes and twice as likely to die of potentially avoidable causes.

Those in the lowest group are also more likely to have cost barriers preventing them from accessing health services – more than twice as likely to avoid seeing a dentist or filling a prescription due to the cost.

The impact of socioeconomic position on health can also be thought of in terms of disease burden, with those in the lowest socioeconomic group experiencing disease burden 1.5 times higher than those in the highest group.

Mr Sandison noted a similar pattern was seen among people living in remote areas, while certain groups – such as veterans – experience higher rates of mental health conditions, such as depression.

How would you rate your health? What do you think could be done to improve health outcomes in Australia?

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Written by Ben

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