There is a substantial gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians— currently estimated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) at 12 years for males and 10 years for females.

Chronic disease is known to be a major contributor to this gap for adults. This report quantifies that contribution in terms of potential years of life lost—a measure that takes into account both the number of deaths and the age at which death occurs.

About 80% of the mortality gap between Indigenous and other Australians aged 35–74 years is due to chronic diseases. Of the gap due to chronic disease, the main contributors are:

  • ischaemic heart diseases (22%)
  • diabetes mellitus (12%)
  • diseases of liver (mainly from alcoholic liver disease) (11%)
  • other forms of heart disease (such as heart failure and cardiomyopathy) (6%)
  • chronic lower respiratory diseases (mainly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) (6%)
  • cerebrovascular diseases (5%).

Cancer is also an important contributor, the most prominent being cancer of the respiratory and intrathoracic organs (4%), cancer of the digestive organs (4%) and cancer of the lip, oral cavity and pharynx (2%).

There are important differences across age and sex groups:

  • Alcoholic liver disease is an important contributor to the mortality gap for both males and females aged 35–54 years.
  • Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are important contributors for both males and females aged 55–74 years.
  • Chronic kidney disease is an important contributor for females aged 35–54 years and both males and females aged 55–74 years.

Many of these diseases are associated with inter-related factors that are common to more than one disease, such as risk behaviours and issues related to service provision and access, and disease treatment and management among Indigenous Australians. These factors are often also associated with social and economic disadvantage in areas such as housing, education and employment.