50% of Australians have chronic diseases, study shows

Published 17 Aug 2015

The nation's health problems appear to be on the rise, as new figures reveal half of the population currently suffers a chronic disease. Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) showed cardiovascular problems and arthritis were the most common illnesses.

The study assessed eight conditions, including back problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, mental health issues and asthma. When a person suffers two of these simultaneously, it's described as comorbidity.

Individuals who are unable to work due to poor health may be entitled to a range of benefits, depending on the severity of the diagnosis. For example, total and permanent disability claims provide compensation for people whose injuries or illnesses prevent them from returning to the workplace.

Income protection offers claimants financial support for more temporary problems, while critical illness cover helps people shoulder the monetary burden of coping with deadly conditions.

Some diseases can strike at any time, although AIHW Spokesperson Louise York said there may be risk factors that make certain individuals more susceptible to suffering a serious illness.

"Older people are more vulnerable to developing many diseases, and Australians' increasing life expectancy means a greater chance for multiple conditions to arise," she explained.

An ageing population

Australia's population is getting older, with government data predicting the number of people aged 65 and over will more than double in the country between now and 2055.

The Treasury's 2015 Intergenerational Report said 'active ageing' is also an issue. This means the population is ageing, but people stay in the workforce and remain engaged with the community for longer.

While this is a positive for life expectancy, Ms York said there is a knock-on effect for health services and infrastructure. She noted that nearly 40 per cent of people aged over 45 currently have two or more chronic diseases.

"We found that arthritis and cardiovascular disease occurred together most frequently, in 16 per cent of the population, followed by arthritis and back problems (10 per cent) and back problems and cardiovascular disease (8 per cent)," she stated.

"Comorbidities are associated with poorer health outcomes, more frequent use of health services and higher healthcare costs."

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said the figures indicate the government should make health reform a critical issue. She said it was concerning that one in five people in the country have at least two chronic diseases.

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