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Ill health burden increases in Australia


Jolyon Attwooll


13/12/2022 12:00:00 AM

New statistics from the AIHW suggest that people spent more time unwell in 2022 than previous years – a trend driven by COVID-19.

Map of Australia.
Australians lost around 5.5 million years of health life in 2022, the AIHW estimates.

For the first time in almost 20 years, Australians have spent more time in ill health on average compared to previous years, according the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
 
The organisation published its Australian Burden of Disease Study on Tuesday, which looks at the how far the country has been impacted by diseases and injuries.
 
It estimates Australians lost around 5.5 million years of health life in 2022, and says people spent more time in ill health on average for the first time since 2003.
 
The AIHW researchers considered the impact of COVID-19 for the first time, and found it is one of the most significant causes of health burden.

According to the study’s findings, COVID-19, including long COVID, contributed 2.7% of the total disease burden in Australia – a trend driven by premature deaths that disproportionately took place among males, and in older Australians aged from 75–84.
 
The report authors acknowledge that data has been projected for the rest of the year, and that ‘given the dynamic and ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, these estimates may be revised in the future as more data become available for the latter part of 2022’.

The newly released report also pinpoints the five diseases that have caused the most burden this year, with coronary heart disease accounting for 5.5% of disease burden as per the study’s calculations, followed by dementia (4.4%), back pain (4.2%), COPD (3.7%) and anxiety disorders (2.9%).
 
COVID-19 featured at number eight.
 
According to the researchers, without COVID-19 the overall pattern of disease burden would have continued downwards in 2022, as it has previously.
 
The researchers calculate the effect of diseases and injuries by converting them into disability-adjusted life years (DALY). These take into account the impact of poor health (described as ‘the non-fatal burden of disease’) and premature deaths (known as the ‘fatal burden’).

In 2022, all cancers combined caused the most burden (17%), followed by musculoskeletal conditions (13%), cardiovascular diseases (12%), mental and substance use disorders (12%) and neurological conditions (8%).
 
The rise of dementia is particularly notable. Back in 2003, it was 12th on the list of diseases that cause the most burden; now it is second.
 
For full details of the latest AIHW Australian Burden of Disease Report, see the AIHW website.
 
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