Taking Preventative Action
3.1 The Case for Prevention
Australia now enjoys one of the highest life expectancies in the world, driven by past successes in infectious disease control, high living standards, safer environments and improvements in nutrition, as well as access to high quality medical care. But as with many other countries, past achievements have bred new challenges, and it is now the chronic diseases associated with affluence and ageing that contribute most to the total burden of disease in Australia.
The increase in the prevalence of these diseases and conditions, many of which are linked to poor lifestyles, and their projected contribution to growth in health care expenditure, has led governments, and international bodies such as the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Health Organization (WHO), to focus on the role prevention can play in reducing the chronic disease burden. Without action, many experts predict that the growth in risk factors such as obesity will start to erode the health gains we have made and life expectancy will begin to fall.
Chronic diseases are already a major challenge for Australia’s health and hospital system, and the wider economy. It is currently estimated that chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers:
- are responsible for around 80 per cent of the burden of disease and injury in Australia;3
- account for around 70 per cent of total health care expenditure;4
- are part of 50 per cent of GP consultations;5
- are the leading causes of disability and death in Australia;6 and
- are associated with around 537,000 person-years loss of participation in full time employment and around 47,000 person years in part time employment each year.7
The burden of chronic disease is projected to dramatically increase into the future:
- Type 2 diabetes is expected to become the leading cause of burden for males and the second leading cause for females by 2023;8
- combined spending on cardiovascular and respiratory diseases is projected to be around $40 billion annually by 2032-33;9 and
- expenditure associated with treating Type 2 Diabetes is projected to increase by 520 per cent between 2002–03 and 2032–33.10
7 AIHW (2009). Chronic disease and participation in work. Cat. no. PHE 109. Canberra: AIHW.
8 Begg SJ et al., Burden of Disease and Injury in Australian in the New Millenium: Measuring the Health Loss from Diseases, Injury and Risk Factors. MJA 188(1): 36-40 Goss, J, Projection of Australian health care expenditure by disease, 2002 to 2033, AIHW.
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