Outliving most of the world, but not healthy in every way, says nation’s health report card

Australians generally enjoy good health, and as a nation we are among the healthiest in the world-but there is still room for improvement, according to the latest national report card on health, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Australia's health 2010, launched today by Health Minister Nicola Roxon at the 'Australia's health 2010' conference in Canberra, brings together the latest available national statistics on health.

AIHW Director Dr Penny Allbon said Australians place great value on their health and the health status of Australians was improving on many fronts, with rapid growth in health spending and health services.

'Health in Australia is a $100-billion-a-year industry, with governments footing 70% of that bill', Dr Allbon said. 'The Commonwealth's contribution alone is around $45 billion.'

It's an industry growing at a faster rate than inflation, and faster than the population.

For example, hospital admissions in Australia rose by 37% in the 10 years to 2007-08, and health expenditure per person rose by around 45% in real terms. Employment in health occupations grew by 23% between 2003 and 2008, almost double that across all occupations.

'New and better technologies, high community expectations, the ageing of our population, and increases in chronic disease as the population ages are all driving that growth', Dr Allbon said.

The report shows that Australia's life expectancy at birth remains among the highest in the world-almost 84 years for women and 79 years for men-and survival rates for people diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD) are improving.

Australia's level of smoking has continued to fall, and is among the lowest in OECD countries at 1 in 6 adults smoking daily. Death rates from diseases associated with smoking have also decreased.

While CVD remains Australia's biggest killer, the death rate from CVD has fallen by over 75% since a peak in the late 1960s, and less than a quarter of deaths from CVD are now among people aged under 75 years.

Cancer death rates have also fallen. Between 1987 and 2007 the overall cancer death rate fell by 16% and survival rates for a number of leading cancers, including cervical, breast and lung cancer, have improved.

'However, despite some great progress in death rates, diseases that impact on the quality of life remain a concern,' Dr Allbon said.

'Many Australians experience mental illness-around 1 in 5 Australians aged 16-85 years has a mental disorder at some time in a 12-month period, including 1 in 4 of those aged 16-24 years.

'Rates of overweight and obesity, which are known risk factors for many diseases, continue to rise.

In 2007-08, 3 in 5 adults (61%) and 1 in 4 children (25%) were either overweight or obese, putting Australia's obesity level squarely among the 'worst' third of OECD countries.'

The prevalence of diabetes also continues to increase markedly, having trebled over the last two decades, and over 800,000 Australians are now diagnosed with the disease. Type 2 diabetes is projected to become the leading cause of disease burden by 2023.

As the population ages, and more Australians reach advanced old age, the number of people with dementia is projected to more than double over the next 20 years.

'The report highlights that some population groups continue to fair worse than others, including Indigenous people, people of lower socioeconomic status and people living in rural and remote areas', Dr Allbon said.

Indigenous Australians have much higher death rates and higher rates of serious and fatal injuries than other Australians. They are twice as likely to have high or very high levels of psychological distress, and Indigenous adults are about three times as likely to have diabetes.

Australia's health 2010 selected highlights

  • Coronary heart disease causes the largest number of 'lost years' through death among men aged under 75 years, and breast cancer causes the most among women.
  • Cancer is the leading cause of disease burden (19%) followed by cardiovascular disease (16%) and mental disorders (13%).
  • In 2007-08, about 3.5% of Australians aged 18 years and over had very high levels of psychological distress, this was similar to findings in 2001 (3.6%) and 2004-05 (3.8%).
  • Rates of sexually transmissible infections continue to increase, particularly among young people.
  • Smoking continues to be the single most preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia.
  • The perinatal death rate of babies born to Indigenous mothers in 2007 was twice that of other babies.
  • More children are being vaccinated against major preventable childhood diseases, with 91% fully vaccinated at 2 years of age-but only 82% of 5 year olds covered.
  • Land transport accidents and intentional self-harm accounted for 2 in every 5 deaths (42%) among young Australians (aged 15 to 24 years) in 2007.
  • The main cause of death for men aged 25 to 64 years in 2007 was coronary heart disease and for women in this age group, breast cancer.
  • For older people, the main causes of death are heart disease, stroke and cancer.
  • People with disability are more likely than others to have poor physical and mental health, and higher rates of risk factors such as smoking and being overweight.
  • People living in rural and remote areas tend to have higher levels of disease risk factors and illness than those in major cities.
  • 2% of total health expenditure was for preventative services or health promotion.
  • In the five years from 2003-04 to 2007-08, the median waiting time for elective surgery in public hospitals rose from 28 days to 34 days.



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