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Higher rates of chronic disease as Australians live longer

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Australians are generally healthy and living longer lives but, as a result, rates of chronic disease and age-related conditions are rising, the latest snapshot of the nation’s health shows.

Australia’s Health 2018, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, shows that Australia is in the top third of OECD countries when it comes to life expectancy, but one in two Australians has a chronic health condition.

Fewer Australians are smoking or putting themselves at risk from long-term alcohol use than in the past, and more children have been immunised. 

“But with a population that is living longer, we are now experiencing higher rates of chronic and age-related conditions,” AIHW CEO Barry Sandison said.

“Half of Australians have a common chronic health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, a mental illness, or cancer. Importantly, almost a quarter of us have two or more of these conditions, often making our experiences of health and health care particularly complex.”

Mr Sandison said that about one-third of Australia’s disease burden is due to preventable risk factors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and not getting enough exercise.

“Our expanding waistlines are a notable example,” he said.

“About six in 10 adults – or 63 per cent – are either overweight or obese, while carrying too much weight is responsible for seven per cent of our total disease burden.”

The two-yearly report shows a clear connection between socioeconomic position and health. Compared with people living in Australia’s highest socioeconomic areas, those in the lowest group are almost three times as likely to smoke or have diabetes, and twice as likely to die of potentially avoidable causes.

Life expectancy for Indigenous Australians has improved over time. However, the estimated life expectancy for an Indigenous boy born between 2010 and 2012 was 10.6 years lower than for a non-Indigenous boy, and for girls the difference was 9.5 years.

The report can be read in full at https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/australias-health-2018