The health of the nation has been reported this week. The prognosis is pretty good – but there are still some worrying trends for a first-world country such as Australia.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) health report comes out every two years. It provides an extensive analysis of health-related issues and informs the development and evaluation of the government’s health policies and programs.
One of the concerning statistics in the report is the burden of chronic disease. Chronic conditions are Australia’s leading cause of ill health and have serious implications for our health system. They account for 87% of deaths and 37% of all hospitalisations.
The three chronic conditions that contribute most to the disease burden in Australia are cancer, coronary heart disease and mental illness. Interestingly, many chronic conditions share common risk factors, such as excess body weight, tobacco smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. And all of these risk factors can be modified through lifestyle changes.
While smoking and alcohol consumption are showing favourable 10-year trends, the incidence of people who are overweight or obese has an unfavourable trend. Sixty three percent of the population aged 18 and older is now either overweight or obese – placing us in the worst third of OECD countries.
The advice from the AIHW is that small lifestyle changes could bring big health gains. For example, if everyone did an extra 15 minutes of brisk walking each day, Australia’s disease burden could be cut by about 14%. And a similar reduction in disease burden could occur if people struggling with their weight could lose 3kg (and keep it off).
The researchers are not trying to shame people who are overweight. But the scenarios modelled indicate the incidence of some chronic diseases would reduce dramatically if we could better manage our weight.
The good news is that many people are asking their GP for help to get healthier. Whether it’s reaching a normal weight, improving their diet, moderating their drinking, or increasing their exercise, the conversations are happening.
Spending on health has grown by about 50% in real terms over the past 10 years. But the health of our nation is about more than just cost. It’s about quality of life – our wellbeing – and given we’re living longer, our goal should be to live that long life healthily.
Defence Health members with hospital cover (except for Essentials Hospital or ADF Essentials Package) may be eligible to access the Healthy Weight For Life programs to support heart health, type 2 diabetes, or osteoarthritis. Program-specific criteria applies.