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05 Jul 2016

Australia is making progress in reducing rates of smoking and dangerous drinking but is losing the battle to rein in weight gain, high blood pressure, and salt and sugar consumption, according to a national snapshot of health trends.

Australia’s Health Tracker, produced by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration with the support of 50 public health organisations, shows that the nation is making good progress toward reducing drinking and smoking, with the proportion of adults drinking at risky levels trending down toward 18 per cent and the country on track to cut the number of adults who strike up on a daily basis down to 10.6 per cent by 2025.

But adults and children are continuing to put on weight, eating too much sugar (and salt) and not doing enough exercise, according to the tracker.

It shows that more than 63 per cent of adults are overweight or obese, along with more than a quarter of children, and almost a half of adults and 70 per cent of children are eating too much sugar.

The tracker found that people are not doing enough exercise, particularly in light of their energy-rich diets – just 55 per cent of adults and less than 10 per cent of teens meet physical activity recommendations.

These readings underline concerns that not enough is being done to reduce the incidence of chronic disease by changing behaviour and encouraging healthier lifestyles.

According to the authors of the Health Tracker, 50 per cent of Australians have a chronic disease, and they estimate that almost a third of such illnesses could be prevented by eliminating smoking, losing weight, cutting down on drinking, taking exercise and reducing blood pressure.

“Chronic disease is the biggest health challenge of the twenty-first century,” the authors said. “Australia lags well behind comparable countries in tackling the risk factors for preventable chronic diseases.”

But, they said, “much of Australia’s chronic disease burden is preventable or capable of significant amelioration”, and urged that there be “population-level interventions that target risk factors shared by many population groups and communities”.

There have been concerns that preventive health has been undermined in recent years by Federal Government policies and cutbacks, including the abolition of the Australian Preventive Health Agency, reducing spending on public health education campaigns, funding cuts for community organisations and programs undertaking preventive health activities and reduced policy emphasis on public health initiatives.

But both the Coalition and Labor have committed to trialling new models of chronic care in the primary health sector centred on general practice as the ‘home’ of health care and involving remuneration based not only on fee-for-service but also incorporating regular payments tied to the management of individual patients with complex and chronic illnesses.

But Public Health Association of Australia Chief Executive Officer Michael Moore said action was now needed.

“A lot of promises were made before the election to fight chronic disease,” Mr Moore said. “This research is the first of its kind, and should be taken as not only a warning, but as a call to action. What we need to see is action from the elected Government.”

Australia’s Health Tracker  can be viewed at:

Adrian Rollins

Published: 05 Jul 2016