Public health

Respiratory conditions bucking a rising trend

Respiratory conditions appear to be bucking the trend of rising chronic disease rates across Australia, with rates of both COPD and asthma dropping over the past two decades.

Latest figures show the prevalence of COPD sits 29% lower than it did in 2001.

Per person rates have of asthma have also declined and now lie at 97% of their levels two decades ago.

It comes as rates of other chronic diseases skyrocket, according to a new report by the Grattan Institute which argues Australia is “sleepwalking into a sicker future that will condemn millions to living with avoidable disease and disability”.

All up, the total number of years being lived in disability are rapidly climbing: from 500,000 in 2000 to 700,000 in 2019, according to the report (link here).

Soberingly, Australians are now spending an eighth of their life in ill-health on average, it adds.

The growth in endocrine conditions appears to be having an outsized impact on the total disease picture, with osteoporosis rates more than doubling and and diabetes increasing 48%.

By contrast, rates of heart disease and hypertension have grown at a far slower pace, just 17% and 5% respectively.

And asthma and COPD are the only two disease areas in the report whose prevalence declined over the period.

Rates of many chronic diseases are rising in Australia
Indexed change in per capita incidence of chronic disease (2001 = 100)

Source: Grattan Institute

While addressing the issue of rising chronic disease will require major reforms, a priority must be the creation of an Australian Centre for Disease Control, the report authors argue.

A long-running policy goal of the AMA, such a centre looks closer than ever before after being promised by Labor at the last Federal Election.

But concerningly, the Federal Government has indicated that preventing chronic disease will not be an early priority, the report says.

“In the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is not surprising that policy makers are giving priority to infectious disease,” it says.

“But in the long run, the payoff from effective chronic disease prevention could be much larger.”

The report concludes: “The ACDC is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. It will be a wasted opportunity if chronic disease prevention is not built into its DNA, and if a plan for its full role is deferred for more than a year.”

“Because every year that we wait locks in more disease, disability, and death in decades to come.”

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