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Chronic diseases are responsible for nine out of ten deaths in Australia, and for much of the health expenditure about which governments are so concerned.
The risk factors underlying these chronic diseases in Australia need to be urgently addressed. Factors such as physical inactivity, obesity, poor nutrition, smoking and alcohol misuse contribute to a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and respiratory illnesses.
Our new report, released this week, proposes a set of chronic disease targets especially designed for Australia. These draw from the World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan targets for 2025 and include an additional area: mental health.
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The focus is on population-based approaches to prevention, but we also target those at high risk of chronic disease. The 2025 targets Australian experts propose are:
- Life – a 25% reduction in preventable early deaths from chronic diseases
- Alcohol – at least a 10% reduction in harmful drinking
- Exercise – a 10% reduction in inactivity
- Salt – a 30% reduction in salt intake
- Tobacco – a 30% reduction in adult tobacco use and a 60% reduction for people with mental illness
- Obesity – no rise in the level of obesity
- Diabetes – no rise in the level of new diabetes
- Hypertension (high blood pressure) – a 25% reduction across the population
- Mental health – a 10% reduction in suicide rates (by 2020); to halve the employment and education gap for people with mental illness.
How are we doing?
Australia addresses some risk factors better than others.
We perform well on tobacco control, for instance, and were the first to introduce plain packaging with graphic health warnings, in 2012. Ireland and the United Kingdom have since introduced plain packaging, and France, Norway, South Africa and Canada are committed to such legislation. (Post continues after gallery.)
The drop in smoking rates to 12.8% reflects coordinated action using taxation, regulation of sales and advertising, and community education. But we still have work to do.
Australia’s performance in other areas is of major concern. In 2011/12, 63% of adults, or 10.8 million people, were overweight or obese. This makes us one of the heaviest nations in the world. Obesity carries significant health risks for heart disease and stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, some cancers as well as a range of other chronic diseases.