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Fatter but healthier

Australia’s Health 2006 has just been released. On the health risks I am interested in studying (smoking, booze, illicit drugs) and the obesity issue it makes these points.

• Smoking rates continue to fall, with 1 in 6 Australians aged 14 years or over smoking tobacco daily in 2004, compared with 7 in 10 men and 3 in 10 women in the 1950s.

• About 1 in 12 young people aged 12–19 years smoked daily in 2004. Interestingly there were more females (9.3%) than males (7.3%).

• Between 1993-2004, the proportion of Australians aged 14 years or over using illicit drugs during the previous 12 months decreased with few exceptions; however, the proportion using alcohol increased.

• In 2004, about 5 in 6 Australians aged 14 years or over had drunk alcohol in the previous 12 months. About 1 in 12 had drunk at levels that risked harm in both the short and long term.

• From self-reports in 2004, about 1 in 7 Australians aged 14 years or over had used an illicit drug during the previous 12 months, with 1 in 9 using cannabis.

• An estimated 2.5 million adults were obese in 2004–05, about 1 in 5 males aged 18 years or over and 1 in 6 females. A further 4.9 million were estimated to be overweight but not obese.

• In 2004, about half of Australia’s adults did not undertake leisure-time physical activity at levels recommended for health benefits. Females reported less leisure-time physical activity than males.

Despite some of the bad things we do Australian’s mortality experience is among the best in the world.

• Australians continue to live longer. Babies born today can expect to live for over 80 years on average among the top 5 nations in the world. For females, life expectancy at birth in 2002–2004 was 83 years and for males it was 78 years.

• Almost 80% of Australia’s deaths now occur in those aged 65 or over; and almost 31% occur in those aged 85 or over.

Our health in terms of various indices is also generally pretty good.

• Across numerous important health indicators, Australia ranks among the top 10 of the world’s developed countries.

• In 2004–05, 56% of Australian adults and young people in a national survey rated their health as excellent or very good, more than in surveys in 2001 and 1995.

• Death rates for cardiovascular disease continue to decline.

• Australia’s overall cancer death rates declined by about 14% between 1986 and 2004
and these rates are low compared with other Western countries.

• Despite improvements, cancer is Australia’s leading cause of death among 45–64 year olds and causes more premature deaths and overall disease burden than cardiovascular disease.

• Mental ill health is the leading cause of the non-fatal burden of disease and injury in Australia. Also, it is estimated to have caused about one eighth of the total Australian disease burden in 2003, exceeded only by cancer and cardiovascular disease.

• An estimated 1 in 5 Australians will have a mental illness at some time in their lives; and about 2.1 million people have a mental or behavioural problem as a long-term condition.

• But the overall suicide rate for males in 2004 was among the lowest since records began in 1907 (excluding the World War II period) and for females it was similarly one of the lowest ecorded.

• At age 65, Australian men in 2002–2004 could expect to reach age of 82.5 years on average and women to reach 86.1 years – about 6 and eight 8 more than their counterparts in the early 20th century.

You can get carried away with health and obesity concerns. We should seek to reduce unnecessary mortality but not be despondent. Overall Australia is doing well.

2 comments to Fatter but healthier

  • Andrew Leigh

    Thanks for giving us such a neat summary. I find the stuff on mental illness especially interesting. My understanding had been that the drug breakthroughs over the past 20 years had reduced the net cost of mental illness substantially — but 1/3rd of total burden still sounds pretty durn high.

  • FXH

    Cleary one should avoid getting old as most deaths occur when people are old. By not getting old one has a good chance of cheating the reaper.

    andrew – most studies of people with serious mental illness show that they have high rates of almost all other ilnesses, obesity, smoking, dental problems, diabeties, etc etc.