How Healthy Are We?

Fewer of us are lighting up or raising our beer glasses at risky levels but we haven’t been able to peg back our food intake. These are the major findings into the health of our nation by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the organisation that provides government with accurate snapshots of the state of the nation across an array of lifestyle measures.

Known health risk factors, as well as long term health conditions, were measured by the ABS in its 2014-15 National Health Survey of 19,000 Australians. Major findings included 14.5% of adults were daily smokers. This was down from 16% in 2011-12, and from 22% in 2001. The Northern Territory continues to top the survey, with 21% being daily smokers, followed by Tasmania at 18%. The Australian Capital Territory boasts the lowest (12%) of daily smokers.

While it is heartening to see that more people are choosing to go smoke-free, there are still 2.6 million adult Australians who smoke daily, putting themselves (and those passive smokers around them) at considerable health risks. The survey points to smoking rates being higher in country and remote areas, compared with inner regional areas and major cities.

Proportionally, more men smoke regularly than women – 16.9% and 12.1% respectively – while we have seen an overall decrease in the appeal of lighting up among young adults, aged 18-44. In 2001 this was measured at 28.2%, whereas it has now dropped to 16.3% in the latest ABS survey. Maybe the plain packaging and continual shrinking of smoking zones are having an impact on stubbing out rates. Not to mention purchase price of “cancer sticks” for those of us who don’t necessarily like the idea of our dough going up in smoke.

When it comes to drinking alcohol – often associated with smoking – 17% of adults drank more than the recommended maximum of two standard drinks a day. This was only 2% less than 2011-12 figures. Men outnumbered women – one quarter (26%) of men drank more than the measured two drinks per day, over twice the rate of women (9%).

It’s great to see that the health risk messages have been cutting through in the areas of cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol but, alas, there is no such good news with the ballooning of our collective body sizes. We continue to eat our way into the statistics – 11.2 million of adults are overweight or obese (64%). That’s up from 62.8% in 2011-12 and 56.3% in 1995.

Overall, more men are overweight or obese (71%) than women (56%) and children aged 5 to 17 remain at about 27% or one in four. Piggybacking on those statistics is, of course, Type 2 diabetes which one million (4.4%) of us have now been diagnosed with. This is up from 840,000 (3.8%) in 2011-12.

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Our calorie intake and the foods we choose to supply those calories continue to be a source of concern, particularly to medical practitioners who all too often have to deal with the associated end results. Add into the mix only one in 20 adults and children meeting the guidelines for eating fruit and vegetables every day, plus the widespread levels of inactivity in society and it’s easy to see the direction our future health issues are taking. But, all is not lost. We can turn this around if we have the collective and individual wills to do so. We are succeeding with tobacco and alcohol. Now we must tackle the weight issue before it stifles us.

To leave you on another cheerful note, here are the major health conditions experienced in Australia in 2014-15, according to the ABS National Health Survey.
Long-term health conditions

  • Arthritis – 3.5 million people (15.3%)
  • Asthma – 2.5 million people (10.8%)
  • Cancer – 370,100 people (1.6%)
  • High cholesterol – 1.6 million people (7.1%)
  • Diabetes – 1.2 million people (5.1%)
  • Heart disease – 1.2 million people (5.2%)
  • Hypertension – 2.6 million people (11.3%)
  • Kidney disease – 203,400 people (0.9%)
  • Mental and behavioural conditions – 4.0 million people (17.5%)
  • Osteoporosis – 801,800 people (3.5%)

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