Source: The Australian, 21 June, 1996, p.3

We're a healthier mob but diet does us in

THE nation is healthier 
than ever, thanks partly to 
rises in health spending, 
now well over $36 billion a 
But our infamous excesses in 
diet and deficiencies in exercise 
keep the nation from a better 
performance, a comprehensive 
study indicates. 
Australia's 18 million-plus 
people still have a higher inci- 
dence of injuries, heart disease 
cancers and respiratory dis- 
orders than some other 
advanced countries. 
The study, a biennial snapshot 
by the Australian Institute of 
Health and Welfare, titled Aust 
ralia's Health 1996, also reiter- 
ates the difficulties for Aborigi- 
nes, although their health is 
improving, and the poor. 
Institute director Dr Richard 
Madden says in the report that 
it has "numerous population- 
wide indicators of lengthening 
life expectancy and lower inci- 
dence of many previous major 
sources of death and illness". 
The report, which contains 
almost 300 pages of analysis of 
national and overseas data for 
varying years, shows that along 
with increasing life expectancy, 
Australians can expect to live 
longer without any handicap. 
They will live substantially 
longer if born in Asia rather 
than Australia. 
Australians still spend a lot of 
time in the sun despite warn- 
ings of skin cancer, and on a 
summer Sunday about 7 per 
cent of adults become sun- 
burned. But both melanoma 
diagnoses and deaths may have 
peaked. Attention to prostate 
cancer has been accompanied 
by a rapid rise in diagnoses but 
not in deaths, a focus of specu- 
The report also supports the 
belief rural-dwellers, both male 
and female, are more likely 
than city people to die due to 
accidents, suicide and "inter- 
personal violence", including 
firearms deaths. 
 Despite an improvement in 
Aboriginal health, the death 
rate among Aborigines and 
Torres Strait Islanders is still 
five to seven times higher than 
for other Australians, with 
their 30 per cent share of 
maternal deaths 10 times the 
proportion of confinements. 
The report points to high 
incidence of poor health among 
unemployed people aged 15 to 
24, and the persistence of socio- 
economically linked health dis- 
advantage from birth to old 
Boys from poor families had 
42 per cent more illnesses than 
boys from high-income famil- 
ies, and poor girls 24 per cent. 
The report says the extension 
of the concept of life expect- 
ancy to quality of life-health 
expectancy - shows Aust- 
ralians are living longer with- 
out encountering a handicap. 
This is contrary to some 
views that while Australians 
are living longer, they simply 
face more years of declining 
The study defines handicap 
as a limitation in ability to 
perform tasks in self-care 
mobility, speaking, schooling or 
employment, and severe handi- 
cap as requiring personal help. 
Between 1988 and 1993, male 
life expectancy rose 1.9 years to 
75 years, and handicap-free 
expectancy rose almost as 
much, 1.4 years, to 62.4 years. 
Severe-handicap-free expect- 
ancy rose even more, 1.7 years, 
to 71.6 years. 
Female life expectancy rose 
in the same period by 1.4 years 
to 80.9 years, while the 
handicap-free span also 
increased 1.4 years, to 66.9 years, 
and the severe-handicap-free 
span by 1.7 years to 75.2 years. 
Expectancy of a life period 
free of any disability was steady 
at 58.4 years for males and 0.6 
years higher at 64 years for 
The report's editor, the insti- 
tute's principal medical adviser 
Dr John Donovan, said while 
our health continued to 
improve, the overall levels were 
only around the middle of the 
OECD rankings. 
"We're not so good in the 
areas of injuries, cardiovascu- 
lar disease, cancers and respir- 
atory disorders, and there are 
still substantial differences 
among different groups within 
the Australian population," Dr 
Donovan said. 
Launching the report in Can- 
berra, the Minister for Health, 
Dr Wooldridge, said it would 
take almost a generation to' 
eliminate the indigenous health 
"This report gives the pretty 
stark figures that the gap 
between Aboriginal health and 
the health of the rest of Aust- 
ralians is actually widening, it is 
getting worse," he said. 
The report says only South 
Australia, Western Australia, 
the Northern Territory and the 
ACT have separate, reliable 
data on indigenous health and 
urges the eastern States to 
start gathering such infor- 


A THREAT of a serious 
outbreak of measles existed 
because too many children 
were not immunised against 
the potentially fatal disease, a 
national survey has concluded. 
The 1995 National Lead Sur- 
vey into the disease found that 
between 13 per cent and 20 per 
cent of children appear not to 
have been immunised against 
measles and blood testing indi- 
cated the numbers of immune 
children might be overstated 
by the reporting process. 
Parents who participated in 
the survey were asked 
whether their children had 
suffered from measles, or 
whether they had been vacci- 
nated against measles and, if 
so, to produce records. 
"When the blood samples of 
the children reported to be 
immunised were tested, 87 per 
cent of those whose parents 
produced records were im- 
mune, but only 80 per cent of 
those whose parents did not 
produce records were immune," 
the study, reported in Aust- 
ralia's Health 1996, says. 


WHILE much of the rising 
health spending is attributed to 
higher costs for services, people 
appear to be getting better value 
for their health dollar by visiting 
the doctor more often. 
This is especially so since the 
average hospital stay is falling, to 
4.6 days, according to the most 
recent figures, for 1993-94. 
Health spending rose about 4 
per cent in 1993-94 to $36.66 
billion, or $2066 per person, 
funded two-thirds by the State 
and federal governments and 
one-third by the private sector, 
according to the Australia's 
Health 1996 report. 
Medicare data shows that 
between 1984-85 and 1994-95, 
there was an average yearly 
increase of 3.7 per cent in visits 
to doctors by men. In the same 
period there was a 2.4 per cent 
annual increase in medical con- 
sultations for women. 
The report suggests rising 
consultations are at least partly 
due to improved access to doc- 
tors, citing a 35 per cent 
increase in the number of gen- 
eral practitioners between 
1984 85 and 1992-93. 

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