The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report card of Australians’ health launched

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Australians’ overall health continues to fare well when compared with similar countries despite significant impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing burden of chronic conditions, ‘Australia’s health 2024’ report reveals.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) biennial flagship report card of Australians’ health was launched last week by the Hon Mark Butler, Minister for Health and Aged Care.

Australia’s health system

In 2021–22, Australia spent an estimated $241.3 billion on health goods and services, an average of $9,365 per person.

Life expectancy

‘Australia’s health 2024’ shows that Australia’s life expectancy at birth is fourth highest among 38 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, after Japan, Korea and Switzerland. A boy and a girl born in 2020–2022 can expect to live on average 81.2 years and 85.3 years respectively.

For the first time since the mid-1990s, however, life expectancy in Australia decreased. Greater declines in life expectancy were seen in the United States (from 78.9 in 2019 to 76.4 in 2021) and the United Kingdom (from 81.3 in 2019 to 80.4 in 2020).

Health and wellbeing of First Nations people

There have been improvements in the health of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, but significant challenges remain.

Death rates among First Nations people have been falling in most age groups over the past 10 years. There has not been any improvement, however, in infant and child death rates over this time.

Cancers are the most common group of diseases causing deaths among First Nations people, overtaking cardiovascular diseases as the most common group in recent years.

Burden of chronic conditions

‘Australia’s health 2024’ also highlights how with greater life expectancy comes a greater burden of chronic conditions on the Australian population.

Around 3 in 5 Australians were estimated to live with at least one long-term health condition, and 2 in 5 with two or more such conditions, in 2022. Chronic conditions contributed to between 89 and 92 per cent of all deaths each year in Australia from 2002–2022.

Cancer is a major cause of illness in Australia. In 2023, on average over 450 cases were diagnosed each day. Consistent with Australia’s ageing and growing population, between 2000 and 2023 the number of new cancer cases increased by 88% and deaths from cancer increased by 41%.

COVID-19

COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death in Australia in 2022, marking the first time in over 50 years that an infectious disease has been in the top 5 causes of death.

Risk factors

Australia’s health 2024 reveals a decline in some behaviours and risk factors which negatively impact our health. Tobacco use – which causes more deaths than any other behavioural risk factor – continues to drop. 8.3% of people aged 14 and over smoked daily in 2022–‍2023, compared with 12.2% in 2016. The proportion of people aged 14 and over drinking alcohol in ways that put their health at risk has fallen too, from 39% in 2004 to 31% in 2022–23.

While tobacco smoking continues trending down, Australia’s health 2024 shows vaping has become more common.

In 2022–2023, for people aged 14 and over, 3.5% were using e-cigarettes daily – up from 0.5% in 2016. In 2022–2023, females aged 18–24 were more likely to use e-cigarettes daily compared with males – 10.3% of females and 8.5% of males.

Increasing burden of mental health

Australia’s health 2024 also shows the increasing burden of mental health on Australians’ health – especially younger Australians.

In 2022–23, 10% of the population accessed 13.2 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-specific services (an increase from 8% in 2013–14). People aged 18–24 were most likely to receive services (16% of people aged 18–24 years) with females of this age (22%) accessing services at a higher rate than males (11%).