Indigenous Australian health gap narrows

Healthy years lost by Indigenous Australians is declining, but risks like smoking remain an issue.
Camera IconHealthy years lost by Indigenous Australians is declining, but risks like smoking remain an issue. Credit: AAP

The health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is narrowing as fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are losing years of their lives to premature death or illness.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare on Thursday released a report based on statistics from 2018, which found that while Indigenous Australians continue to experience higher rates of "disease burden", the gap is narrowing.

"Disease burden" measures an illness or injury's impact in terms of the number of years of healthy life lost through living with the ailment.

Overall, Indigenous Australians experience 2.3 times more disease burden than non-Indigenous.

The report found Indigenous Australians born after 2018 can expect to live around 80 per cent of their lives in full health.

The absolute gap in disease burden between Indigenous and non-Indigenous dropped by 16 per cent between 2003 and 2018.

This was largely driven by a narrowing of the gap in "fatal burden", which decreased by 28 per cent.

Almost half, or 49 per cent, of disease burden among Indigenous Australians could have been prevented by avoiding risk factors like smoking and an unhealthy diet.

Mental and substance use disorders accounted for 23 per cent of disease burden, followed by injuries at 12 per cent, cardiovascular disease at 10 per cent, cancer at 9.9 per cent and musculoskeletal conditions at eight per cent.

Indigenous men experienced a fatal burden rate 1.4 times higher than Indigenous women, and men were three times more likely to carry burden due to alcohol use, suicide or self-inflicted injuries.

Indigenous women experienced more burden from anxiety and depressive disorders.

The AIHW said detailed findings and a report on the burden of disease experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be released in early 2022.

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