Despite 85% of Australians rating their health as ‘good’, ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s biennial report shows that obesity rates are on the rise, and that a staggering 95% of Aussies don’t eat the recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Whilst issues related to poor diets dominate the report there were plenty of positives identified too. Smoking rates - especially amongst young people - had fallen, with the number of people over the age of 14 who have never smoked rising to 60% (81% between the ages of 14 and 24).
As well as this a quarter of those between 14 and 24 had never drunk alcohol - an increase of 16% on the figures published in the 2001 edition of the report.
Life expectancy has also continued to rise, with a male born between 2011 and 2013 now expected to live to 80.3 years of age, the figure rises further to 84.4 years for females born within the same period. These figures are ahead of the UK and USA, and is despite the report highlighting that half of all Australians are suffering from a chronic disease.
In the report chronic diseases were identified as arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and mental health conditions. Approximately 25% of the country’s population are believed to be suffering from 2 or more of these conditions.
One of the most common is cardiovascular diseases and, despite being overtaken by Cancer as the biggest killer in the country, Coronary Heart Disease remains the biggest single killer of Australian people.
This is linked closely to a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle and, with obesity rates on the rise, it is an issue that doesn’t look like it will be decreasing soon.
According to the report 63% of Australians are classified as overweight or obese, with the worst issues being in girls under the age of 14. According to statistics they are the 3rd most overweight at their age group in the OECD area.
Being overweight or obese increases a person's risk of suffering from high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes by almost 60%, all of which increases their chances of being faced with CHD in later life.
Coronary Heart Disease takes the life of almost 20,000 Australians a year, and this makes it by far the biggest single killer in the country. It is followed by Alzheimer's and Dementia (around 10,500 people each year), Cerebrovascular disease (10,000), Lung Cancer (8000) and COPD which kills around 5000 people every year in the country.
Mental health problems in Australia were also identified as being on the rise too however - with suicide the main cause of death in men between the ages of 15 and 44. 20% of Australians stated that they had suffered from mental health problems over the course of the last year, with rates of depression in the country seemingly on the increase.
Despite government funding rising in real terms by 3.1% year on year the report did highlight that there are some major inequalities within the healthcare system.
Many less well off Australians forgo trips to the dentist, with roughly 1 in 3 people in the country said to be avoiding or delaying a check-up because of the cost. On top of this 1 in 5 Australians did not have recommended dental work undertaken in the year following the recommendation because of concerns over the price.
Health inequalities also show in the health statistics of the indigenous Aboriginal people. The life expectancy of men in this group is 10.6 years lower than the country’s average, and for women it is 9.5 years less.
Whilst rates of obesity are higher amongst this community, and smoking is far more widespread, the report discovered that Aboriginal people had to wait on average a week longer than other Australians for elective surgery - a statistic that the government will need to tackle.
For many outsiders Australia may look like one of the healthiest countries in the developed world. It’s clear from the AIHW report however that - as with most similar countries - diets are reducing in quality and the population is increasing in weight as a result.
Strong funding ensures that Australia is well placed to tackle what threatens to become an obesity epidemic.
If you are considering a move to Australia or New Zealand then book your tickets for our International Medical Careers Forum in London on October 15th where we will have guest speakers with plenty of inside knowledge of what life is really like down under - and how to make that move a reality.
Book tickets and see who’s speaking on http://www.imc-forum.com/ now!