Australia leads many developed countries on key health measures

The Australian findings for GBD 10 – much of which was undertaken at The University of Queensland (UQ) – reveal heart disease as the leading cause of death and disability for Australians, with poor diet the biggest risk factor.

The impacts of drugs, depression and Alzheimer’s disease are also on the rise.
Professor Alan Lopez, who co-founded the study while at UQ’s School of Population Health, said the health of Australians had significantly improved since 1990.

“This is largely due to bold public health interventions,” he said.

“We can thank two decades’ worth of campaigns by state and federal governments for driving down premature deaths from road injury, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), tobacco and other health dangers,” Professor Lopez said.

The top causes of premature death in Australia are ischemic heart disease, lung cancer and stroke, but the impacts of heart disease and stroke are decreasing despite their relatively high rankings.

Australian children are among the world’s least likely to die in childhood, with the risk of child death falling to less than five per 1000 live births.

Deaths from road injury also fell by 40 per cent during 1990-2010.

But the health of Australians is increasingly challenged by other diseases caused by lifestyle choices. These include obesity and alcohol and drug use, which causes more health loss in Australia than in New Zealand, Japan, Singapore or South Korea.

Many forms of cancer – including lung, colorectal, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers, as well as leukemia— – caused Australians to lose more years of life in 2010 than in 1990.
Among Australian women, lung cancer rose by an alarming 50 per cent in 20 years.

Alzheimer’s disease as a cause of premature death has increased from 26th place in 1990 to ninth in 2010, and the number of years of life lost because of Alzheimer’s has increased by 170 per cent _– far more than any other leading disease.

Overall, life expectancy has increased for both men and women in Australia. On average, a newborn girl can now expect to live 83.8 years (up from 80 years in 1990), and a newborn boy 79.2 years (up from 74 years in 1990).

Australians may be living longer but those extra years are often punctuated by illness or disability, with low back pain, major depressive disorders, other musculoskeletal problems, neck pain, falls and anxiety the major causes of lost health.

The Australia-specific GBD findings will be launched on Thursday 2 May at a national health symposium at the University of Melbourne.

GBD 2010 is a collaborative project led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It details health trends for demographics, disease, and disability for 187 countries.

To interview Dr. Lopez or for more information please contact: Kirsten O’Leary (Media and Communications Officer), T: +61 7 3346 4713 or M: 0412 307 594, [email protected] or Professor Alan Lopez, T: 0400 115 231 or T: 03 9035 4157, [email protected]