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Study shows Australians live longer but aren’t healthy

Image - Study shows Australians live longer but aren’t healthy
Date Published:
9 Jun 2015
Contact person:
Marion Downey
+61 401 713 850

A new study from the Global Burden of Disease Project shows that people across Australia are living longer but spending more time in ill health with nonfatal diseases and injuries such as low back pain and major depressive disorder. The study co-authored by UNSW Professor Louisa Degenhardt* also found that deadly diseases like diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have become concerning causes of years lived with disability for Australians, following an analysis of 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries.

The study Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries, 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 is the first to examine the extent, pattern, and trends of nonfatal health loss across countries, and was published in The Lancet on 8 June.

Years lived with disability (YLDs) quantifies the impact of health problems that impair mobility, hearing, or vision, or cause pain in some way. In 2013, neck pain, migraines, and anxiety disorders were among the 10 leading causes of YLDs in Australia. Other leading causes included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and age-related and other hearing loss.

“The health of Australians is increasingly threatened by non-fatal ailments like back and neck pains, and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety,” said Professor Degenhardt. “At the same time, deadly diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes are also costing Australians many years of healthy life. It is critical that we understand which diseases and injuries are causing disability so that we can effectively allocate resources.”

For women in Australia, diabetes and Alzheimer’s have replaced iron-deficiency anemia and hearing loss as leading causes of years lived with disability. Between 1990 and 2013, YLDs from diabetes increased by 212%, and Alzheimer’s YLDs increased by 116%. Neck pain had the smallest percent increase in YLDs at 21%. 

Diabetes YLDs also increased for men in Australia between 1990 and 2013, climbing 198%. Hearing loss increased by 72%, and among the leading causes of YLDs, neck pain had one of the lowest percent increases in YLDs at 25%.

“What ails you isn’t necessarily what kills you,” said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray. “As nonfatal illnesses and related ailments affect more people of all ages, countries must look closely at health policy and spending to target these conditions.”

To read the full study, visit: http://www.healthdata.org/research-article/global-regional-and-national-incidence-prevalence-and-years-lived-disability-2013.

For more coverage of the study, see also Lower back pain top disability cause and Illness study a ‘call to arms’.

*Professor Louisa Degenhardt is a member of an international consortium of researchers working on the Global Burden of Disease project led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, United States.