What conditions are most likely to rob Australians of years of healthy life?

Life expectancy in Australia is increasing, but ailments such as depression, diabetes, back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders are taking their toll, the new Global Burden of Disease (GBD) papers have found.

The data is published today in The Lancet.

“In Australia, we have made substantial health progress in the past 20 years,” says GBD co-founder and University of Melbourne Laureate Professor Alan Lopez, an international authority on the global burden of disease and using health data to develop health systems and policy.

“But we’re been much less motivated to address issues leading to illnesses.

“A ‘triad of troubles’ – obesity, musculoskeletal ailments and mental illness, including substance use disorders – poses a stubborn and persistent barrier to the health of many people.”

In Australia, the major findings are:

  • An Australian man born in 2016 can expect to live 80.5 years, an increase in life expectancy of 1.6 years over the past decade. A woman has a life expectancy of 84.6 years, up 1 year from 2006.
  • The top five causes of premature death in Australia are ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, self-harm and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Back pain, migraine headaches and other musculoskeletal disorders are the top causes of years lived with disability (YLDs) in Australia.
  • YLDs from other musculoskeletal disorders were more than twice what would be expected in Australia based on income per capita, average years of education and total fertility rates.

One of the most alarming risks in the GBD is excess body weight. The rate of obesity-related illness is rising quickly in all sociodemographic levels.

High body mass index is the fourth largest contributor to poor health after high blood pressure, smoking and high blood sugar.

Mental illness and substance use disorders continued to contribute substantially to poor health in 2016, affecting all countries regardless of socioeconomic status.

Treatment rates for mental and substance use disorders remain low. Even in high-income countries where treatment coverage has increased, the prevalence of the most common disorders has not changed.

Globally in 2016, for the first time since reliable recording began, fewer than five million children under the age of five died in one year, fewer than half the 11 million who died in 1990.

Deaths due to conflict and terrorism more than doubled in the past decade. Recent conflicts, such as those in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Libya, are major public health threats, due to casualties and their long-term physical and mental consequences.

The study’s other global findings are:

  • Poor diet is associated with one in five deaths.
  • Non-communicable diseases were responsible for 72% of deaths worldwide in 2016, up from  58% in 1990. Since 2006, diabetes has risen from 17th to ninth leading cause of death in low-middle income countries.
  • Tobacco is linked to 7.1 million deaths and in more than 100 countries smoking was among the leading risk factors for loss of healthy life.
  • The leading causes of premature death globally included ischemic heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections, diarrhea-related diseases and road injuries. Ischemic heart disease was the leading cause of premature death for men in 113 countries and for women in 97 countries.
  • Only four of the leading 20 causes of disability in 2016 – stroke, COPD, diabetes, and falls –were also leading causes of death.