Sickness and disease within the Australian population is on the rise for the first time in almost two decades – and COVID-19 is one of the leading causes.
Despite the increase, the nation remains healthier than it was when monitoring started in 2003, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says.
“Australians lost an estimated 5.5 million years of healthy life in 2022,” spokesman Richard Juckes said on Tuesday.
“Each new study since 2003 showed a decrease in the average amount of time spent in ill health by Australians, but in 2022 we saw this average increase by two per cent compared with the 2018 study.”
The Australian Burden of Disease Study measures the years of healthy life lost.
It converts the impact of diseases and injuries to disability-adjusted life years, which include both the impact of living with poor health, known as the non-fatal burden of disease, and dying prematurely – referred to as the fatal burden.
Since 2003, there has been an 11 per cent decline in disability-adjusted life years.
The fatal burden has fallen by 23 per cent, while the non-fatal burden has increased slightly.
“In other words, fewer Australians are dying prematurely than 19 years ago, but we are still living with similar amounts of ill health,” Mr Juckes said.
COVID-19 featured in the analysis for the first time and it was one of the leading causes of the health burden.
Researchers estimate the health burden from the virus, including from long COVID, accounted for 2.7 per cent of the total burden in Australia, mostly due to premature death among older people.
The top five specific diseases that caused health burden were coronary heart disease (5.5 per cent), dementia (4.4 per cent), back pain (4.2 per cent), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (3.7 per cent) and anxiety disorders (2.9 per cent).
COVID-19 ranked eighth among the specific diseases, pushing up the fatal burden from infectious diseases by 143 per cent between 2018 and 2022.
Among grouped diseases and conditions, cancers caused the most burden, accounting for 17 per cent of the total.
It was followed by musculoskeletal conditions (13 per cent), cardiovascular diseases (12 per cent), mental and substance use disorders (12 per cent) and neurological conditions (8 per cent).
Between 2003 and 2022, the fatal burden fell by 50 per cent for cardiovascular diseases, while for cancers it declined by 26 per cent.
Australian Medical Association president Stephen Robson said the figures showed people were living longer with chronic diseases, adding to the burden on an already stretched health system.
“One of the startling figures to come out of this report is the fact that anxiety disorders are now in the top five diseases creating a burden on the health system,” he said.
“We need investment in preventative care across the board, particularly in mental health if we are to prevent more and more patients unnecessarily ending up in hospitals.”