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Millions ignorant of chronic disease risk

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Millions of adults are unaware that they are living with dangerous health conditions that put them at risk of diabetes, heart disease and kidney and liver problems.

In a landmark study, the Australian Bureau of Statistics discovered that one in three Australians has unmanaged high cholesterol, and 1.3 million have both unmanaged high cholesterol and unmanaged high blood pressure.

The study, based on blood and urine samples from 11,000 adults tested for various chronic disease and nutrient biomarkers, found that three out of every four Australians aged 45 years or older had risk factors for heart disease, while almost half of those aged between 18 and 45 years had at least one risk factor for heart disease.

Furthermore, one in ten adults were found to have chronic kidney disease and almost 12 per cent had liver problems.

Disturbingly, the survey found that many were unaware that they had, or were at significant risk of developing, serious chronic illnesses.

Just 10 per cent of those who took part in the survey identified high cholesterol as a current health condition and hundreds of thousands were living in ignorance of the fact they had diabetes.

Almost one million Australians have been formally diagnosed with diabetes but, based on the study’s findings, the ABS estimates a further 231,000 have the disease but do not know it, and an additional 700,000 are at risk of developing the condition.

Adding to the nation’s potential health burden, the ABS study found that more than 4 per cent of adults had anaemia, a condition that causes the heart to work harder to ensure muscles and organs get the oxygen they need.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said every adult should know their cholesterol level and everyone should have a cholesterol test when they reach 45 years of age, or earlier if there was family history of problems.

The Heart Foundation said the results showed that there needed to be more routine checks to identify people at risk of heart attacks, strokes and chronic disease.

Kirsty Waterford