Australians are smoking less, surviving cancer more, and generally living longer.
That’s the essence of a report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Providing a snapshot of the health of the nation, the report revealed that Australians are in much better shape than they were three decades ago.
The Australian Health Report 2022: In Brief shows that life expectancy for Australians is now 83.2 years (81 years for men; 85 years for women). This is a stunning increase since 1990, when men were expected to live less than 74 years, and women’s life expectancy was 80 years. (In the 1900s, the average life expectancy was a mere 55 years.)
However, for Indigenous Australians, it is a starkly different story. According to the government’s 2020 Close the Gap report, life expectancy at birth is 71.6 years for Indigenous males and 75.6 years for Indigenous females.
“Much of the increase in life expectancy… is because of improved social conditions, advances in medical technology – such as mass immunisation and antibiotics – and health promotion and protection activities,” the report states.
One of the reasons for the increased longevity is that Australians are surviving life-threatening illnesses longer.
The five-year survival rate for cancer is now at 70 per cent, an 18 per cent increase since 1993.
This means that on average “people are more likely to survive for at least five years after a cancer diagnosis than they were in the past,” the report states.
The report found that the most common cancer for women was breast cancer, while for men it is prostate cancer.
Cigarettes and alcohol
Another reason for our collective good health is that the amount of people smoking tobacco in Australia has more than halved since 1991.
Smoking causes (amongst other conditions) cancer, stroke, heart disease, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis).
In 1991, nearly a quarter of the population was throwing the dice on their health by smoking. Now, the most recent data shows that the amount of Australians smoking has plunged to 11 per cent. (The report did not include statistics on vaping.)
Despite the downward trend, “Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Australia,” the report states.
And though alcohol abuse is widely prevalent in Australia, the report revealed a promising trend: binge drinking is down. Further, sobriety rates are up, from 16 per cent of the population in 2001 to a quarter of the population in 2019.
Meanwhile, more than a quarter of the Australian population have a musculoskeletal condition, the report revealed.
Such conditions include arthritis, osteoporosis, and back problems.
Five per cent of Australians are living with diabetes (type 1, 2 or other, including gestational).
And nearly half a million people were living with dementia, and around 400,000 had a stroke during 2018.
As for COVID-19, the case fatality rate of the desease “has fallen from a peak of 3.3 per cent in October 2020 to 0.1 per cent in April 2022,” the report states. “This fall corresponds with the rollout of the national vaccination program.”
Until December 2021, Australia had relatively low COVID-19 infection and death rates.
The Omnicron variant changed all this, bringing the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths to their highest levels.
“Vaccination has played a key role in the reduction in the proportion of deaths and hospital admissions,” the report said.
A big problem
The report showed that one of the most alarming trends is that Australians are getting heavier. Three quarters of men and 60 per cent of women are overweight or obese.
Overall, 67 per cent of the population is overweight – up 10 per cent in the last 20 years.
One factor playing into overweight/obesity is a lack of exercise. Thirty per cent of adults (aged 18–64) “did not perform at least the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity in the past week,” the report said.
And one in every four Australian children, aged 5-14, is considered overweight.
“The prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased,” the report stated.
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