Public health

Back pain, arthritis leading causes of workforce exit

Tuesday, 22 Sep 2015


Back pain and arthritis are the leading chronic conditions associated with premature exit from the workforce, a report confirms.

Using a microsimulation model to project lost productive life years (PLYs) researchers estimated a loss of 347,000 PLYs in 2010 due to chronic disease, a figure they projected to increase to 459,000 in 2030.

Back problems were the major contributor to PLYs lost at each time point (23.27% in 2010, 21.37% in 2030). The corresponding figures for arthritis were 13.26% and 13.31%, according to the report published in the MJA. 

If only half of the projected growth in the prevalence of chronic conditions occurred, an estimated 453 000 PLYs would be lost by those aged 45-64 years, equating to a projected loss of GDP of $62.89 billion.

Directing resources towards the introduction of effective interventions to prevent and treat the chronic conditions associated with the highest rates of premature exit from the labour force by older workers is likely to improve the work capacity of this group, they said.

“Or put another way, the reduce the loss of PLYs predicted by our study and thereby Australia’s future finances,” they added.

Commenting on the report, Arthritis Australia’s CEO Ainslie Cahill said: “This research shows that one third of the productivity loss due to chronic conditions overall is due to back pain and arthritis, but the impact of these conditions continues to be poorly recognised by government, industry and the community”.

“In addition to lost productivity, arthritis, back pain and related conditions come with a bill for the health and welfare systems of  around $10 billion a year, so you would think there was a huge incentive to invest in research and better care,” Ms Cahill said.

“Yet we know that arthritis and back pain continue to be poorly cared for in the health system and that arthritis receives far less research funding than nearly any other major chronic condition,” she said.

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