Longer life expectancy brings growing health burden

Australians are living longer compared to 20 years ago but are spending more time battling health conditions.

Photo: AAP

Photo: AAP

A flagship study run by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare  found life expectancy has dropped by 0.1 years for both men (81.2 years) and women (85.3) from 2019-2021 to 2020-2022, but those numbers are both 0.3 years above pre-pandemic levels.

Since the start of the 20th century, Australian life expectancy has soared more than 40 per cent.

The nation now ranks fourth among OECD countries, only behind Japan, Korea and Switzerland.

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) both saw far greater drops in life expectancy through the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the report pointed out increased life expectancy brought a greater burden on chronic conditions with it, with three in five Australians living with at least one long-term health problem.

Two in five have two or more conditions, with Australians losing 5.6 million years of healthy living in 2023 due to ill-health or prematurely dying.

“Chronic conditions present a key challenge for individuals, governments and society as a whole,” the institute’s deputy chief executive Matthew James said.

“For example, with an ageing and growing population, the study predicts that the number of Australians with dementia will more than double by 2058 to 849,300.”

Cancer cases increased by 88 per cent between 2000 and 2023 and deaths from cancer spiked 41 per cent, but adjusted for age the rate people died from cancer dropped 25 per cent in the same time period.

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Seven in 10 people survived at least five years after a cancer diagnosis between 2015 and 2019, up from 53 per cent between 1990 and 1994.

First Nations age groups mostly saw improvements in death rate across the past 10 years, but the report found no improvement in infant and child rates.

Cancer overtook cardiovascular diseases as the most common group of diseases causing death among First Nations.

Australia spent an average of $9365 per person on health goods and services in 2021-22, a six per cent increase when adjusted for inflation.

The study found COVID-19 played havoc with the health system, including causing a massive disruption to elective surgery admissions at public hospitals.

“The number and rate of admissions for elective surgeries from public hospital waiting lists in 2022–23, while higher than 2019–20 and 2021–22, were still lower than in the years preceding the pandemic (2016–17 to 2018–19),” James said.

And Australians continue to struggled to meet national diet guidelines.

Some 94 per cent of adults don’t eat the suggested daily serve of vegetables, while 56 per cent did not eat enough fruit.


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