Australia’s poorest are sickest

How well-off you are can significantly affect your chances of suffering a non-communicable disease or dying early

Australia’s Health Tracker by Socio-Economic Status, a new report by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration at Victoria University, shows that 40% of Australians on low incomes are currently experiencing decreased health.

Such poor health outcomes can be attributed to multiple factors including lack of access to healthcare, poor nutrition, high rates of obesity, and high smoking rates, as well as the rising cost of living from the increasing prices of housing, utilities and food.

The report found that people in the lowest socio-economic bracket are four times more likely to die from diabetes; three times more likely to die from a respiratory disease; 2.5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease; and 60% more likely to die from cancer.

“The Health Tracker is a clear illustration of these determinants at work,” says Public Health Association of Australia CEO Michael Moore.

“Those who experience social and economic disadvantage also experience a much higher risk of non-communicable disease such as diabetes, respiratory disease, heart disease and cancer. They are also much more likely to experience serious mental health issues.

“These health conditions are often long-term and eventually result in an earlier death.

“This research illustrates that disadvantaged Australians are indeed more likely to die from one of these diseases. The report paints a stark picture of how one’s place on the social and economic ladder has a direct impact on life expectancy,” Mr Moore said.

He says that instead of prioritising these vulnerable Australians, however, “we are applying one-size-fits-all health policies” and urged Governments to significantly increase funding for preventive measures.

“Currently, Australia invests a pathetic 1.5% of its health budget on preventive health measures and programs. It really needs to be 5% of health spending as a bare minimum, and we are unlikely to see a meaningful reduction of chronic disease without this investment.

“At present, one in two Australians have a chronic disease, and many have more than one condition.

“The good news is that almost a third of this could be entirely prevented with greater investment in public health initiatives designed to reduce obesity, smoking, and alcohol consumption as well as increasing physical activity.”

Health stakeholders welcomed the report.

Cancer Council Victoria’s Head of Prevention Craig Sinclair said that one in three cancer cases – around 37,000 cases – could potentially be prevented through lifestyle change.

“Smoking, UV radiation, body weight, poor diet and alcohol caused around 90% of all preventable cancers. We must urge our governments to help create environments that support healthy lifestyle choices and ensure that Australians from disadvantaged backgrounds are fully educated on the life-saving cancer screening programs that are available for free,” Mr Sinclair said.

“Cancer rates are going to be greatly impacted for decades to come unless we start making strategic investments in prevention now.”

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