Indigenous life expectancy gap largely attributable to chronic diseases

While some inroads have been made in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there are still many areas where large disparities exist, according to the latest statistical report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report, The health and welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: an overview 2011, will be launched today by the Minister for Human Services, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP at the Coalition for Research to Improve Aboriginal Health conference in Darling Harbour.

For the first time, the report looks at the impact of chronic diseases on the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (currently estimated to be 12 years for men and 10 years for women).

It shows that about 80% of the mortality gap can be attributed to chronic diseases, most significantly heart diseases (22%), followed by diabetes (12%) and liver diseases (11%).

‘Many chronic diseases have inter-related risk factors which are often associated with social and economic disadvantage in areas such as housing, education and employment,’ said Institute spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman. ‘Much of this chronic disease is potentially preventable.

‘In some of these areas there have been improvements, for example, the proportion of Indigenous people who were daily smokers dropped from 49% to 45% between 2002 and 2008.’

‘In education, Indigenous Australians aged 25-34 years completed more schooling than those aged 55 years and over and Year 12 retention rates for Indigenous students rose from 29% in 1996 to 47% in 2010.

‘For housing, between 1994 and 2008, the proportion of Indigenous households who were home owners or buyers rose from 26% to 32%, and between 2002 and 2008, the proportion of Indigenous households living in dwellings with structural problems fell from 34% to 26%.’

However, there are still many areas where Indigenous outcomes remain significantly worse.

‘For example, babies born to Indigenous mothers were twice as likely to be of low birth weight as babies born to other Australian mothers. And nearly half of all Indigenous children were living in jobless families in 2006—three times the proportion of all children in Australia,’ Dr Al-Yaman said.

‘Indigenous Australians comprised more than a quarter of all prisoners in 2010. And, Indigenous Australians made up 1 in 5 users of homelessness services in 2008-09.’

The report is accompanied by 9 online observatory papers on topics including Indigenous life expectancy and mortality; child safety; eye health; disability; access to health services; chronic disease and older people. Together with information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, they provide a broad statistical overview of Indigenous health and welfare.

The Indigenous observatory can be accessed at:


Previous article Next article