• Ben Larner | EPNET

HEALTH FACTS: How do we stack up against the rest of the world?


What does it mean when we say a person is 'healthy' or 'unhealthy'? At a simple level, one can view the concept of health by focusing on the individual and on the presence, or absence, of disease and medically measured risk factors.

A broader and more widely accepted view sees health as multidimensional: defining health 'as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity' (WHO 1946).

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2014–15 National Health Survey (NHS), 85% of Australians aged 15 and over report their health as 'good' or better, which is similar to the previous survey in 2011–12 (ABS 2015e). Internationally, Australia is one of the leading countries on this measure.

But there are concerns. While there are positive signs and progress on many fronts, it is clear that Australia is not healthy in every way, and some patterns and trends give cause for concern.

CHRONIC DISEASE Chronic diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes are becoming increasingly common in Australia due to a population that is increasing and ageing, as well as to social and lifestyle changes. Improvements in medical care have also enabled us to live longer with illnesses and diseases, and have provided access to treatments not available in the past (AIHW 2012).

In the early 20th century, people ate fewer processed and energy-dense foods, walked more, performed more manual labour and lived with few labour-saving appliances and gadgets. Today, we may be less likely than our parents and grandparents to smoke, but we are more likely to be sedentary and spend more time in front of televisions or other electronic screens.

In 2014–15, based on self-reported data from the NHS, more than 11 million Australians (50%) had at least one of eight selected chronic conditions (arthritis, asthma, back problems, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, or a mental or behavioural condition) (ABS 2015e). Of these people, 5.3 million had two or more of the eight conditions.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, there is some good news in the chronic diseases story. For example, the death rates from coronary heart disease and stroke fell by 75% and 67% respectively between 1983 and 2013.

OVERWEIGHT AND OBESITY

According to the 2014–15 NHS, an estimated 11 million people aged 18 and over (63% of Australian adults) were overweight or obese—4.9 million of whom were obese. Only about one-third (35%) of Australian adults were in the normal weight range (ABS 2015e).

NUTRITION AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

A healthy diet and regular physical activity are important factors in maintaining a healthy weight. According to the 2014–15 NHS, the vast majority of adults (95%) (ABS 2015e) and children aged 5–14 (98%) do not eat the recommended daily serves of fruit and vegetables (ABS 2015d).

In 2014–15, just over half (56%) of Australians aged 18–64 undertook sufficient physical activity per week. This proportion was little changed from 2011–12 (55%) (ABS 2015e).

There is a lot of good news on the health front in Australia—we have one of the highest life expectancies in the developed world; our overall burden of disease has fallen, and most of us rate our health as 'good' or better. When ranked against other OECD countries, we rank better than average for mortality from coronary heart disease, cancers, and suicide, and we have one of the lowest rates of tobacco smoking.

But as a nation, and individuals there is still much work to do! If you need assistance with lifestyle modification, exercise or chronic disease management, contact Ben at EPnet.

Ben is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Sports Scientist with Exercise and Sports Science Australia and has over 15 years experience in health, fitness and allied health fields. Clinics located at Planet Fitness Lambton, Charlestown and Belmont.

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