Why Global Citizens Should Care
Disease prevention efforts should be prioritized for those with the greatest needs and disadvantages. Addressing poverty, food insecurity, and inadequate housing will help close the glaring health inequalities in Australia between race and socioeconomic groups. Global Citizen campaigns to ensure health care is affordable and available for all. Take action on these issues here.

The overall health of Australians improved notably between 2003 and 2015, but experts say too many citizens continue to put their health at risk through harmful lifestyle habits.

Despite the burden of disease — a population’s collective years of healthy life lost due to disease — dropping 11% over 12 years, many diseases are still caused by tobacco use, obesity, diet, high blood pressure, and high blood glucose, according to a study published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) this week.

"In 2015, Australians collectively lost 4.8 million years of healthy life due to living with or dying prematurely from disease and injury,” AIHW spokesperson Richard Juckes announced in a statement. “The disease groups causing the most burden in 2015 were cancer, cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal conditions, mental and substance use disorders, and injuries.”

Tobacco use was responsible for 9.3% of Australia's burden of disease, followed by obesity at 8.4%.   

Jane Martin, executive manager at Australia’s Obesity Policy Coalition, said the nation needs to make big changes to tackle obesity, including protecting children from junk food marketing, taxing sugary drinks, and establishing public health education campaigns.

"It is likely to continue to worsen unless we take action now. Addressing obesity should be an important focus for the government,” Martin stated. “With 67% of adults and 24% of children overweight or obese, weight-related health issues are one of the biggest public health challenges facing this country.”

The report reveals the lowest socioeconomic communities face heightened levels of disease burden.

Burden attributable to obesity and dietary risks were twice as high in the poorest areas compared with the wealthiest areas. For tobacco use and high blood glucose — which includes Type 2 diabetes — the rate was 2.6 and 2.4 times higher, respectively.

The burden of heart disease is also 70% higher in the poorest socioeconomic groups.  

The publication of the data comes one day after Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a new national illness prevention strategy.

"Whether it's 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," Hunt stated during a health conference in Melbourne. "We also have to deal with obesity and poor diet, which come together and contribute to issues in relation to blood pressure.”

"All of these affect our quality of life, our longevity, and increase the burden of disease,” he added.

A disease prevention roundtable is expected in the coming months, with health experts nationwide urged to attend.


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