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Life expectancy drops for first time in 30 years

The life expectancy of Australians has fallen for the first time since the mid-1990s, a new government report reveals.

The Australian Institute of Health and Wealthfare has released data on Australia's health that depicts a 0.1 year decrease in life expectancy between 2020 and 2022.

This is likely due to an increase in deaths during the pandemic. Covid-19 was one of the leading causes of death in 2022, the first occurrence of an infectious disease in Australia's top five causes of death in over 50 years.

AIHW Deputy CEO Matthew James said this report is a way for the government to reflect on the country's health post-pandemic.

"The last time we released an Australia’s Health report, it was mid-2022 and Australia was in the middle of the Omicron wave of the pandemic," he said.

"Now, in mid-2024, it’s a good time to look back over the last few years and consider where we stand."

Australia still ranks fourth for life expectancy among 38 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, after Japan, Korea and Switzerland.

"Even though life expectancy in Australia decreased in 2020–2022, it was still higher than it was in 2017–2019, prior to the pandemic, by 0.3 years for males and females," Mr James said. 

While overall life expectancy may have experienced a recent dip, non-indigenous Australian children born in between 2020-2022 are still predicted to live beyond 80 years old. For First Nations people life expectancy at birth is notably lower than non-indigenous people, with a gap of 8.8 years for males and 8.1 years for females.

Over the last century the causes of death in Australia have shifted dramatically from infectious to chronic diseases. The report reveals that 91 per cent of the non-fatal burden of disease in Australia is attributed to conditions like diabetes, cancer and dementia, and for Australia's aging population this means a greater necessity for aged care resources.

The report shows that although we are gaining years living in full health, we are also spending more years experiencing ill health. AIHW estimates that in 2022 approximately two in five Australians were living with a chronic health-condition, with two in five experiencing two or more.

"Chronic conditions present a key challenge for individuals, governments and society as a whole," Mr James said.

"For example, with an ageing and growing population, AIHW predicts that the number of Australians with dementia will more than double by 2058 to 849,300 – 533,800 women and 315,500 men."

Australia has seen a significant increase in the median age of the population in the last 50 years, from 27.5 in 1971 to 38.3 in 2023. The AIHW predicts that as the population continues to age, the demand for ill-health management will increase, putting increasing pressure on our healthcare and aged care systems.

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