Burden of Disease in Australia and a call for ‘fearless’ prevention


Suburban NSW

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) have released their 'Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015' which shows that more than half of all Australians are living with a chronic illness and that  38 per cent of those are preventable.

At the recent Public Health Prevention Conference 2019 in Melbourne, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt highlighted the report as a challenge to be solved through innovative preventative health solutions and announced the government's plan to develop a new "long term" National Preventive Health Strategy.

Leading cause of disease

The AIHW report gives us a snapshot of who is at the greatest risk of disease and injury in Australia.  The data shows us that young and middle aged men, older women and people experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage are experiencing the greatest risk factors for preventive health issues.

“Alcohol use contributed to the burden of 30 diseases and injuries including alcohol use disorders, 8 types of cancer, chronic liver disease and 12 types of injury— predominantly road traffic injuries and suicide & self-inflicted injuries”
- Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015, AIHW

Key findings

  • Tobacco is the leading risk factor for disease across all age groups, including infants and young children exposed to second-hand smoke.
  • Tobacco use is linked to 39 individual diseases including: 19 types of cancer, 7 cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.
  • Alcohol is the 6th leading cause of disease across all ages.
  • Men in their mid-twenties to 40s are more at risk from alcohol than any other risk factor including smoking, poor physical exercise, and poor diet.
  • Men are more likely to be dependent on alcohol and have alcohol-related self-inflicted injuries and suicide.
  • Women aged 65 and above are at the greatest at risk of alcohol-related diseases like coronary heart disease, breast cancer, liver cancer and chronic liver disease.
  • Illicit drug related disease and injury has increased by 18 per cent since 2003.
  • Men are experiencing the most illicit drug-related disease, in fact they are experiencing more than twice the amount of drug-related disease than women.
  • People from the most disadvantaged socioeconomic communities are experiencing 2.3 times more drug-related disease than people from the least disadvantaged communities.

Action on prevention

The results from the 'Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015' demonstrate the need for effective prevention and widespread health promotion programs, particularly when it comes to preventable alcohol and other drug related disease, injury and death.

At the Public Health Prevention Conference 2019, Minister Hunt said "Preventive health is one of the four pillars of our long term national health strategy." He continued, "Whether its drugs and alcohol, whether it's the work in relation to diet, whether it's other elements, we are developing with you a long term national preventive health strategy."

Minister Hunt committed to inviting representatives from the health sector to a roundtable: "I'll be looking forwards to a roundtable with you at some stage in the near term, to have your views, your advice, your comments, frank and fearless as always." He explained, "The work you do is appreciated and my task is to now take that forward with a national strategy."

In an official statement CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, Terry Slevin said, "Any national strategy must focus on those with the greatest need and those at greatest disadvantage because we know that poverty and minority vulnerabilities have a profound impact on health outcomes."

The announcement by Minister Hunt comes just days after he told the Australian Associated Press (AAP) that he expects to release a national alcohol strategy "within the next four months". A key focus of the strategy is expected to be on improving public education as a response to results from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) annual public poll. The poll showed that less than a 3rd of Australians surveyed were aware of the link between drinking alcohol and several cancers.

Stay tuned to Your Room for highlights from the National Preventive Health and Alcohol strategies as they are released by the commonwealth government.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Family Drug Support on 1300 368 186 or Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm.

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