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A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has highlighted the gaps in health outcomes for regional, remote and Indigenous Australians compared with Australia’s general population.

Titled Australia’s Health: 2020, this year’s version of the biennial series specifically focuses on “life expectancy, chronic conditions, social determinants of health and the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the AIHW.

While there were some encouraging signs – life expectancy has improved and daily smoking has decreased in the general population – AIHW Deputy CEO Matthew James said there were both specific and overarching areas where outcomes for the general population could improve.

He noted that “rural and remote and/or lower socioeconomic areas”, as well as people with disability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, face higher rates of “illness, hospitalisation and death” compared to other Australians, citing diabetes as one example where these gaps are apparent.

“People living in remote and very remote areas are 1.2 times as likely to have diabetes as people in major cities; people living in the lowest socioeconomic areas are twice as likely to have diabetes as people in highest socioeconomic areas, and Indigenous Australians are 2.9 times as likely to have diabetes as non-Indigenous Australians”, Mr James said.

Despite these gaps, Mr James said the data suggested Indigenous Australians had experienced an improvement in some health outcomes.

“There have been some improvements in the health of Indigenous Australians in recent years, including a fall in the Indigenous death rate across all age groups, except for those aged 75 and over between 2008 and 2018 and rates of ear disease among Indigenous children are decreasing.”

However, according to the data Australians suffered from high rates of chronic disease.

“Almost half (47%, or more than 11 million people) of Australians have a chronic condition such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, asthma or a mental health condition”, Mr James said.

“Many, but not all, chronic conditions are largely preventable by addressing risk factors such as tobacco smoking, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, insufficient physical activity, poor diet and nutrition and overweight and obesity”.

The latter health outcome, Mr James said, was also an issue in its own right for Australians broadly.
“Unfortunately, Australia has the fifth highest rate of obesity out of the 23 OECD countries for which data is available. In 2017–18, around two-thirds (67%) of adults and one-quarter (25%) of children and adolescents were overweight or obese,” Mr James said.
Australia’s Health: 2020 report is available to read on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website