Indigenous Australians experience more than twice the burden of disease in comparison to a non-indigenous person and research also suggests that most of the diseases are preventable.
23 Sep 2016 - 11:03 AM  UPDATED 23 Sep 2016 - 11:03 AM

The latest snapshot of Indigenous health by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows while there have been improvements, there remains a wide gap in terms of illnesses and deaths suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders compared with non-Indigenous people.

Chronic diseases made up the bulk of diseases among Indigenous Australians, with mental and substance use disorders topping the list followed by injuries, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory disease.

Overall, Indigenous Australians were 2.3 times more likely to have a disease than other Australians, and six times more likely to have diabetes.

AIHW spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman said a significant portion of the diseases were preventable.

"By reducing risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol use, high body mass, physical inactivity and poor diet, over one third of the overall burden for Indigenous Australians could be avoided," Dr Al-Yaman said.

Dietary factors contributed to 10 per cent of the diseases among Indigenous people, while tobacco use was behind two-fifths of cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease cases.

The report, which was based on data collected in 2011, noted there had been slight improvements in terms of diseases, particularly cardiovascular problems, among Indigenous people since 2003.

However while fewer Indigenous people were dying from diseases, it appeared many were living longer with them.

There were higher rates of diseases among Indigenous people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia compared to those in NSW and Queensland.

Those living in remote and very remote areas were also more likely to have a disease.

The heavy toll of chronic disease:

64 per cent of the total diseases affecting Indigenous Australians are chronic diseases

Those chronic diseases are:

  • 19% mental and substance use disorders
  • 15% injuries (including suicide)
  • 12% cardiovascular diseases
  • 9% cancer
  • 8% respiratory diseases

- Males are most likely to have cardiovascular disease

- Females have more blood and metabolic disorders

- Infant and congenital conditions are the main cause of disease in infants.