In recent years the need to prevent chronic disease and to keep people healthy and out of hospital has become increasingly important. This is evident in the policies and strategies of the current Australian Government (for example, the National Preventative Health Strategy), where a shift from treatment to prevention is apparent. Many chronic diseases common in Australia today are amenable to preventive measures, including changes in lifestyle behaviours, better medical treatments and early detection. The world of chronic disease prevention is complex and includes factors such as prevalence, rates of risk factors and measures of management. Because of these attributes, it lends itself to multiple opportunities for surveillance and monitoring.

This report presents data for the 42 Key indicators of progress of chronic disease and associated determinants. This indicator set was developed to provide a standard set of statistics that, over time, will provide a ‘report card’ on how prevention of chronic disease in Australia is progressing. As this is the first report that presents data for these indicators, it can be considered as providing baseline statistics.

Progress in the prevention of chronic disease

The indicators show a mixed picture of progress in the prevention of chronic disease.

The good news stories are related to mortality. Australians are living longer, and gains in life expectancy continue to occur. Premature deaths (that is, deaths in people aged less than 75 years) from leading potentially preventable chronic disease are also falling, having decreased by 17% in 10 years. The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy is 11.5 years for males and 9.7 years for females, and closing this gap is a major focus of Australian governments.

The results for determinants (risk factors) present a mixed story. On the positive side, daily smoking continues to decrease and now concerns only 17.5% of the adult population. Less favourably, about a quarter of Australian children are currently overweight or obese, as are over 60% of adults. These estimates are based on data from physical measures. Comparable trends in these data are unavailable; however, when similar estimates for adults from self-reports are analysed, they show that rates of overweight/obesity have increased over time. Excess weight is associated with many chronic conditions, so the increase shown in these statistics is of concern.

For some chronic conditions (such as depression or dementia), limited availability of data means that trends in prevalence remain either unchanged or unclear. The true prevalence of Type 2 diabetes (using data derived from measured sources—laboratory tests) is also unknown at this point in time, as the last available data (indicating that 7.1% of adults have Type 2 diabetes) are now about 10 years old. However, trends based on self-reported information indicate that this condition is increasing—a trend also observed in other countries.

Preventable admissions to hospital (that is, those that could have potentially been prevented through the provision of appropriate non-hospital health services) present a stable trend. Recently there are indications that these may be improving (decreasing), although more data need to be accumulated to confirm the direction.