Obesity on the rise in Australia

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Australians are generally healthy – but preventable 'disease burdens' such as obesity are on the rise, according to the new national health report card.

Almost two-thirds of Australians aged 18 and over are overweight or obese, says the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) research, along with 28 percent of children aged five–17 years old.

Compared to 1995, the number of severely obese adults had nearly doubled in 2014–15.

People with such weight issues report higher rates of chronic conditions such as arthritis, back pain and problems, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases than adults in the normal weight range.

Added to insufficient physical activity, obesity and weight problems are estimated to account for nine percent of the total disease burden in Australia – the same as tobacco smoking, the leading risk factor.

AIHW CEO Barry Sandison said a wide range of biological, behavioural, social and environmental factors contribute to obesity rates.

“Understanding why someone may be obese – or in good or poor health generally – is complex, and it’s important to look at the raft of factors across a person’s life that may be at play,” he said.

Living longer

The two-yearly report card, Australia’s health 2018, found that Australia's 25 million-plus population is expected to live 33 years longer than people born in 1890.

Life expectancy for boys born in 2016 is 80.4 years, and for girls 84.6 years.

Indigenous Australians are living longer than before due to improved education and reduced smoking and alcohol intake, but social factors such as employment and income are prominent in the health gap to non-Indigenous Australians.

Chronic conditions

In 2016, there were 158,500 deaths in Australia, with the main causes remaining the same compared to a decade ago – coronary heart disease accounted for 13 percent of male deaths and dementia and Alzheimer's disease taking 11 percent of female lives.

Half of all Australians are estimated to have at least one of the eight common chronic conditions: cancer, cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, arthritis, back problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and diabetes. Nearly a quarter of the population has two or more of these conditions.

Mental health problems are also rising – 45 percent of the population aged 16-85 will experience such issues during their life.

Increased spending

The cost of healthcare has risen significantly – spending has gone up by around 50 percent since 2006-07, from $113 billion ($5,500 per person) to $170 billion ($7,100 per person) in 2015–16. Population growth, meanwhile, is only 17 percent.

Governments fund 67% ($115 billion) of all health spending, while individuals contribute more than half ($29 billion) of the non-government outlay.

Hospitals (39 percent) and primary health care (35 percent) account for three-quarters of all health spending.

Of the people hospitalised daily, 17,300 are treated in public facilities and 11,800 privately. There are more than 400,000 daily visits to general practitioners.

About two-thirds of elective surgery is performed in private hospitals, while the median waiting time for such planned operations in a public hospital was 38 days in 2016–17. There are nearly 2.2 million elective surgeries performed nationwide annually.

In 2015–16, meanwhile, 4.5 million of the 10.6 million admissions in public and private hospitals were at least partially paid for by private health insurance.

Private health insurance was used for 14 percent of admissions in public hospitals and 83 percent of admissions in private hospitals.

Read the full report on the AIHW website.

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