Half of Australians have chronic disease says latest AIHW report card

Almost half of Australians live with a chronic health condition according to the latest report card on Aussies’ health, issued every two years by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare.

The AIHW’s report, Australia’s health 2022, released on the 7th of July, stated that in 2020 -21 some 11.6 million Australians were estimated to have one or more common chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, mental and behavioural conditions, and chronic kidney disease.

By living longer, Australians have also experienced higher rates of age-related conditions like dementia, and the findings show that while Australia was generally a healthy nation compared with similar countries, over one-third (38%) of the nation’s ‘disease burden’ was due to preventable risk factors.

Our expanding waistlines were a notable example: 2 in 3 adults (67%) were either overweight or obese, while carrying excess weight was responsible for 8.4% of Australia’s total disease burden.

AIHW Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Matthew James, said that the report also examined changes in the health of Australians throughout the pandemic, highlighting the big jump in ‘excess deaths’ in 2022.

“Death rates were decreasing before the onset of the pandemic, with this trend continuing in 2020 and 2021, [and] when variation is taken into account, there were 205 fewer deaths than expected in 2020 and 94 more deaths than expected in 2021,” Mr James said.

“However, there was a marked change in January and February 2022, with 3,105 more deaths than expected in those 2 months alone.

“In 2022, no health issue stands above, or has had as wide-reaching impacts on our population and health system, with these affects to be felt for many years to come.”

The AIHW report also identified that some population groups in Australia have different experiences of health than others.

For example, age-standardised COVID death rates were nearly three times higher for people living in the nation’s lowest socioeconomic areas – compared with the highest – and 2.5 times higher for people born overseas compared to those born in Australia.

Additionally, the rate of severe disease from COVID-19 (ICU admission and/or death) was sevenfold higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared with the overall population.

And in general, the higher an Australian’s socioeconomic position, the better their health: If all Australians had experienced the same disease burden as people living in the highest socioeconomic areas in 2018, the total burden could have been reduced by one-fifth (21%).

Despite the number of Australians experiencing chronic health conditions, there have been marked improvements in many areas of health, including infant mortality, cancer survival and deaths from coronary heart disease.

Life expectancy at birth was 83.0 years in 2020, the sixth highest among the 38 OECD countries, with males born in 2018–2020 expected to live 81.2 years and females 85.3.

Coronary heart disease has fallen by 89% since 1968 but remained the leading cause of death for males and the second leading cause for females, and during 2014 – 2018 approximately 70% of people survived at least 5 years after a cancer diagnosis.

The report card also described insights gleaned from the first large-scale study in Australia to analyse health service costs in the last year of a person’s life.

‘Although just 0.7% of the Australian population die each year, 8.0% of the health expenditure in scope was for people in their final year of life,” Mr James said.

“The outlay for hospitalisations was 39 times as high for people in their last year of life compared with those not in their last year.”

Those interested in finding out more can access the AIHW’s report here: Australia’s health 2022..