Australian health a shining example

When it comes to health, Australia is a shining example of how government campaigns can have a positive effect on life expectancy, but we can do more to help ourselves.

According to the Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) 2010 study, the full results of which are due to be released this week, Australia is ranked fifth in the world for life expectancy, with a new born girl living until 83.3 and a boy 79.9 years of age on average. This has increased from 80 and 74 years of age respectively in 1990. The outlook is better for men when the sexes are split, with men ranking fifth and women 10th in terms of healthy life expectancy.

Professor Alan Lopez, who founded the survey in 1990, attributes the increased life expectancy to the success of government health campaigns, “We can thank two decades of campaigns by state and federal governments for driving down deaths from road injury, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and tobacco.”

While some causes of death have become less of an issue, others have replaced them, with obesity now more deadly than smoking. Heart disease, which is mainly due to poor lifestyle, is now the leading cause of death and disability in Australia. Lung cancer and stroke, closely followed by drug and alcohol abuse are also on the increase. And, although most of these risk factors can be controlled by better lifestyle choices, Alzheimer’s disease, the causes of which we still need to determine, has increased from 29th to ninth on the list of causes of premature death.

Top 10 countries for life expectancy

  • Japan
  • Andorra
  • Iceland
  • Switzerland
  • Australia
  • Italy
  • Sweden
  • Spain
  • Israel
  • Singapore

Australia’s five worst killers

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Lung cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (combination of emphysema and chronic bronchitis)

Read more at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation website.

Opinion: The downside of living longer

A long and happy life is what most people aspire to, but for those forecast to live well into their 80s, will this be a possibility?

Given my family health history and the fact that I don’t smoke, eat well and am reasonably active, there’s a good chance I could live a long life. This is something I dread, although those who have a few years on me tell me that I will change my mind as I get older. However, I fear being dependent on machines or medication, not having my full faculties and being a burden on the people who have to care for me.

Not only are those who are looking towards the future having to prepare for the financial burden of retirement, but they will also need to prepare for the cost of health and aged care, as it is unlikely that any government will be in the position to pick up the tab for an increasingly ageing population.

Government resources are already stretched and, while Professor Alan Lopez may be calling on policy makers and health experts to focus on the growing threats to health, they must also take into account the increasing burden of an older population. Of course, if the overall health of the population continues to improve, then one may assume that people will be less of a burden on the health system, but with Alzheimer’s disease also on the rise, this may not necessarily be the case.

From 2017 we will see the qualifying age for the Age Pension start to rise from 65 to 67 in 2023. This will surely be the first of many changes to counteract the growing financial burden of an ageing population. But what about those who cannot physically work longer? Whether due to lifestyle diseases or other medical mishaps, there is likely to be an increase in those looking to qualify for the Disability Support Pension. This will be balanced by tighter eligibility requirements and criteria so that those already suffering ill health, will also suffer more financially. It simply seems a no-win situation for all concerned.

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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