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Report card shows more to be done to curb health inequality

Australians are living longer but inequality still mars the most recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report card.

The biennial report, Australia's health 2016, found Australians are living longer than ever before and death rates continue to fall, but also revealed disparities between population groups and that socioeconomic factors are still key determinants of health.

AIHW director and chief executive Barry Sandison said while the influence of lifestyle factors on a person's health was a recurring theme of the report, factors such as income, education and employment also affected Australians’ health.

“As a general rule, every step up the socioeconomic ladder is accompanied by an increase in health,” he said. “Compared with people living in the highest socioeconomic areas, people living in the lowest socioeconomic areas generally live about 3 years less, are 1.6 times as likely to have more than one chronic health condition, and are 3 times as likely to smoke daily.”

The report also revealed disparities between population groups, particularly between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. While there have been falls in smoking rates and infant mortality among Indigenous Australians, the population group continues to experience a lower life expectancy than non-Indigenous Australians.

Sanderson said at 69.1 years for males and 73.7 for females, life expectancy is more than 10 years shorter than for non-Indigenous Australians.

Lower life expectancy was also evident among people living in rural and remote areas, as was higher rates of disease and injury.

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association chief executive Alison Verhoeven said much more could be done to improve health literacy to address inequality and to generally try to shape a system which deals with some of those issues.

Verhoeven said: “This is an opportunity for health leaders and the Commonwealth Government to heed the report’s message that lifestyle factors and social determinants are significant contributors to ill-health, and to address the issues of health inequality and the importance of reform across all of our care systems.”

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