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Impacts: Disease burden

Impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Last updated 06-06-2019

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more than twice as likely to die early or live with poor health compared to non-Indigenous Australians. Excess weight accounts for 14% of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Key Evidence

01

Excess weight, poor diet and too little exercise are important modifiable health risk factors

02

These factors make a greater contribution to the disease burden for Indigenous people as they get older

03

High body mass index (BMI) accounts for 62% of the disease burden for endocrine disorders

Indigenous Australians are more than twice as likely to die early or live with poor health compared to non-Indigenous Australians. About half of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in 2011 was due to modifiable risk factors, of which tobacco had the largest effect, followed by excess weight.1

A total of 29 modifiable risk factors caused 37% of the total disease burden for Indigenous Australians. Among the most important modifiable risk factors were excess weight, dietary factors (includes not eating enough fruit and vegetables and eating too much processed meat) and too little exercise.

To calculate the disease burden, researchers combine estimates of the number of years lost due to premature death, and the years of healthy life lost due to illness (for example, four years lived with a chronic illness might become 2.7 disability-adjusted life years). The contribution of modifiable risk factors to the overall burden of disease for Indigenous Australians is shown in the table below.1

Proportion of total burden attributable to each risk factor

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2011. 2016.

Risk factor % of total disability adjusted life years (DALY) Risk factor % of total disability adjusted life years (DALY)
Behavioural Dietary
Tobacco use 12.3 Diet high in processed meat 2.8
Alcohol use 8.3 Diet low in fruit 2.5
Physical inactivity 5.5 Diet low in whole grains 2.3
Drug use 3.7 Diet low in nuts and seeds 2.3
Childhood sexual abuse 2.1 Diet low in vegetables 1.6
Intimate partner violence 1.4 Diet high in sweetened beverages 1.6
Unsafe sex 0.7 Diet low in omega-3 fatty acids 1.0
Metabolic Diet low in fibre 1.0
High body mass 8.2 Diet high in saturated fat 0.9
High blood pressure 4.9 Diet high in sodium 0.4
High blood plasma glucose 4.6 Diet high in red meat 0.3
High cholesterol 2.6 Diet low in milk 0.1
Iron deficiency 0.5 Diet low in calcium <0.1
Low bone mineral density <0.1 Joint effect of all dietary risks combined 9.7
Environmental
Occupational exposures and hazards 1.1
Air pollution <0.1
Unimproved sanitation <0.1 Joint effect of all risk factors 36.9

High body mass (BMI) and dietary risks were linked to various disease groups for Indigenous Australians. In particular, high BMI contributed 62% of the burden for endocrine disorders (including diabetes), 37% for kidney and urinary diseases, 34% for cardiovascular diseases and 5% for cancer. A diet low in fruit contributed 16% of the burden for cardiovascular diseases and 5.5% for cancer, and a diet low in vegetables contributed 13.1% of the burden for cardiovascular diseases and 1.8% for cancer. High body mass and dietary factors made a greater contribution to the total disease burden for Indigenous Australians with increasing age, consistent with the increased occurrence of chronic conditions in later life, and peaked in the 55 to 64-year-old age group for both men and women.1

References

1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2011. 2016. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/...