New report reveals overall health has 'improved substantially'

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A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found the population's overall health "improved substantially" between 2003 and 2015 and that further gains could be achieved by reducing lifestyle-related risk factors.

The Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015 measured the number of years living with an illness or injury (the non-fatal burden) or lost through dying prematurely (the fatal burden).

According to the report, the disease groups causing the most burden in 2015 were cancer, cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal conditions, mental and substance use disorders and injuries.

"In 2015, Australians collectively lost 4.8 million years of healthy life due to living with or dying prematurely from disease and injury," said AIHW spokesperson Richard Juckes.

"After accounting for the increase in size and ageing of the population, there was an 11% decrease in the rate of burden between 2003 and 2015."

The report attributed most of the improvement in the total burden to reductions in premature deaths from illnesses and injuries such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and infant and congenital conditions.

"Thirty eight per cent of the total burden of disease experienced by Australians in 2015 could have been prevented by reducing exposure to the risk factors included in this study," said Mr Juckes.

"The 5 risk factors that caused the most total burden in 2015 were tobacco use (9.3%), overweight & obesity (8.4%), dietary risks (7.3%), high blood pressure (5.8%) and high blood plasma glucose - including diabetes (4.7%)."

The report also found that, for the first time, living with illness or injury caused more total disease burden than premature death. In 2015, the non-fatal share was 50.4 per cent and the fatal share was 49.6 per cent of the burden of disease.

The AIHW also released an overview of health spending. The overview provides information on the impact of diseases in terms of spending through the health system.

The data in Disease expenditure in Australia, which relates to 2015–16, suggests the highest expenditure groups were musculoskeletal conditions (10.7 per cent), cardiovascular diseases (8.9 per cent) injuries (7.6 per cent) and mental and substance use disorders (7.6 per cent).

"Together the burden of disease and spending estimates can be used to understand the impact of diseases on the Australian community. However they can’t necessarily be compared with each other, as there are many reasons why they wouldn’t be expected to align," continued Mr Juckes.

"For example, spending on reproductive and maternal health is relatively high but it is not associated with substantial disease burden because the result is healthy mothers and babies more often than not.

"Similarly, vaccine-preventable diseases cause very little burden in Australia due to national investment in immunisation programs."