Australians are living longer, but becoming more overweight

Neelima Choahan

20/06/2018 4:26:52 PM

Fewer Australians are smoking or putting themselves at risk from long-term alcohol use, but an ageing population means the country is now experiencing higher rates of chronic and age-related conditions.

According to the AIHW report, the life expectancy for Australian females at birth is 84.6 years, and 80.4 years for males. (Image: World Obesity Federation)
According to the AIHW report, the life expectancy for Australian females at birth is 84.6 years, and 80.4 years for males. (Image: World Obesity Federation)

Australians are living longer than ever before, but half have at least one chronic condition, which can affect the quality of life, according to the latest report card on the nation’s health.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) 16th biennial report card, Australia’s health 2018, reveals one in two Australians are estimated to have at least one of these eight common chronic conditions: cancer, cardiovascular disease, mental health conditions, arthritis, back pain and problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and diabetes.
Most Australians are also overweight.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of Australians aged 18 and over, and more than one-quarter (28%) of children aged 5–17 are overweight or obese. Compared with 1995, in 2014–15 a greater proportion of adults were in the obese weight range, and the proportion in the severely obese range was nearly double.
AIHW Chief Executive Barry Sandison said that when it comes to obesity, it is not just a case of poor diet or exercise habits.
He said a range of factors – biological, behavioural, social and environmental – contribute to the likelihood of becoming obese, including the walkability of cities, rising work hours and increasingly sedentary jobs, larger portion sizes and food advertising.
‘Understanding why someone may be obese – or in good or poor health generally – is complex and it’s important to look at the raft of factors across a person’s life that may be at play,’ he said.
In 2016, the leading cause of death for males was heart disease, and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease for females.
Compared to other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, Australia has the fifth highest life expectancy at birth for males (80.4 years) and the eighth highest for females (84.6 years), one of the lowest rates of smoking among people aged 15 and over, and a better than average rate of colon cancer survival, ranking third best.
However, Australia ranked in the worst third of OECD countries for obesity among people aged 15 and over, and alcohol consumption is slightly above the OECD average.
Australians are smoking less, and daily and weekly drinking rates have fallen, but rates of risky drinking on a single occasion have not changed.

Chair of RACGP Victoria Dr Cameron Loy said the findings in Australia’s Health 2018 demonstrate positive outcomes on a range of acute and chronic health issues.
Australia’s health 2018 once again shows the benefit of general practice and preventive healthcare,’ he told newsGP.
‘Australia outperforms OECD member countries and far exceeds the OECD average on measures such as life expectancy, while spending around the OECD average on healthcare.
‘While we’re doing well in some areas, it is clear that we need to address other areas, like the increasing proportion of people who are obese or overweight. Care should be provided early to keep people well, reducing the need for expensive hospital visits.
‘Preventive healthcare is an important activity in general practice. It includes the prevention of illness, the early detection of specific disease, and the promotion and maintenance of health.
‘It is clearly in the best interest of all Australians that our Government urgently reinvest in this area.’
The report showed an average of 406,000 visits were made to a GP each day. In 2016, GPs also provided about one-third (31%) of the 11.1 million mental health-related services that were subsided by Medicare.  
Nearly one in five (18%) of people aged 15 and over felt they waited longer than acceptable to see a medical specialist, 63% were able to see a GP within four hours of making an appointment for urgent medical care, but 25% waited 24 hours or more.
However, 96% of surveyed people aged 45 and over said they received excellent, very good or good quality care from their usual GP.
Nearly half of Australians will experience a mental illness in their life – most commonly anxiety, alcohol-use disorders and depression.
Between 2005–07 and 2010–12, the gap in life expectancy at birth between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians decreased from 11.4 to 10.6 years for males, and from 9.6 to 9.5 years for females. Mortality rates for children aged 0–4 also declined, from 217 deaths per 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in 1998 to 146 deaths per 100,000 in 2016.
On average, prisoners have poorer health and show signs of ageing 10–15 years earlier than the general Australian population.
The AIHW report reveals half of those who entered prison had a mental health condition, compared to 19% of the general adult population. A third (31%) of the prisoners had hepatitis C, compared to 2% of general adult population, and 74% were current smokers, compared to just 2% outside of prison.
RACGP resources

This article was uptaed to include Dr Cameron Loy’s comments.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare chronic conditions life expectancy obesity OECD

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