Australia’s Health in 2012

Australia's Health 2012
Australia enjoys a healthy international image as an outdoors and sports loving country, but are we as healthy as we appear to be? That's the question the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) set out to answer and according to their Thirteenth Biennial Health Report, the answer appears to largely be, "Yes." It's not all good news, though. While there are a lot of positive health indicators, there is plenty of room for improvement, too.

Australia's Health 2012: The Good News

There are several areas where Australia gets high marks for health in comparison to other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries:

  • Life expectancy in Australia is amongst the highest in OECD countries. Males can expect to live to an average of 79.5 years, whilst females can look forward to an even longer life of 84.
  • Our quality of life also appears to be excellent, with 82% of respondents to a survey reporting they were "delighted, pleased or mostly satisfied" with their lives and only 4% reporting they felt "dissatisfied, unhappy or terrible."
  • There are fewer smokers in Australia now than in most OECD countries, with a 2010 survey reporting that only 1 in 7 Australians aged 14 and older smoked.
  • Our immunisation rates are amongst the highest in the world, with over 90% of children up to the age of 5 having received full immunisation.
  • We are not a nation of couch potatoes: Three quarters of Australian children between the ages of 5 and 14 actively participate in sports and cultural activities outside of school hours.

Australia's Health 2012: The Not-So-Good News

The not-so-good news about Australia's health in 2012 is that it is not equally enjoyed by all. Those Australians with higher incomes fare better than poorer Australians and those of us who live in urban areas are healthier than rural Australians. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have much lower life expectancies than Australians of non-indigenous descent. Some other troubling findings include:

  • Whilst we are still a comparatively active society, there has been a slight decline in our active participation in sports according to surveys taken in 2005-2006 and 2009-2010.
  • Instances of the venereal disease, chlamydia, have increased 600% since the 1990s, when prevalence of the disease was first surveyed.
  • Nearly 900,000 Australians have been diagnosed with diabetes. A comparison of 1989-1990 and 2007-2008 studies revealed that over twice as many Australians now have diabetes than 20 years ago.
  • Obesity is becoming a bigger problem in Australia, with 1 in 4 adults and 8% of Australians under the age of 18 being reported as overweight or obese.
  • Whilst subjective surveys indicate we are a relatively happy country, other indicators show that we have a relatively high incidence of mental disorders, with 45% of Australians between the ages of 16 and 85 having experienced some type of mental disorder.

According to the health report, cardiovascular disease continues to be a leading cause of death in Australia. This, combined with the alarming increase in incidences of diabetes and obesity, indicates that we should probably take a closer look at our diets. The AIHW report suggests that Australians should consume more fruits and vegetables, but stops short of recommending foods to avoid. Here on NT Pages, many articles summarise scientific research that suggests excessive consumption of refined sugar and processed foods plays a large role in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. For example, a December 2011 NT Pages article, Sugary Drinks Raise Diabetes and Heart Disease Risk points out the dangers of over-consumption of soft drinks and other highly sweetened drinks.

As any natural therapist will say, the best medicine is preventive medicine and a healthy, natural diet is the best preventive medicine there is. If we want to get an "A" on our next national health "report card," a more natural diet is probably what we need the most.

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