Here’s what we can learn about our communities’ health

Australia's communities are generally healthy but there are some key areas for improvement, according to the latest report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The two-yearly report card, Australia's health 2018, was recently launched by the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health.

The report shows that Australia sits squarely in the best third of OECD countries when it comes to life expectancy, with girls born in 2016 likely to live 84.6 years, while boys can expect to live to 80.4 years.

Fewer Australians are smoking or putting themselves at risk from long-term alcohol use than in the past. More children have been immunised and Australia is doing well in terms of preventing avoidable deaths.

At an individual level, Australians are feeling the effects of these good results, with more than 4 in every 5 grading their own health to be at least 'good'-if not 'very good' or 'excellent'.

But with a population that is living longer, Australia is now experiencing higher rates of chronic and age-related conditions. For example, older Australians use a higher proportion of hospital and other health services and 75% of all PBS medicines were dispensed to people aged 50 and over. And with health spending continuing to rise-reaching $170 billion in 2015-16 and outstripping population growth-the important role that Australia's health system plays in both prevention and treatment is clear.

Long-term health conditions are common-often underpinned by lifestyle factors

Half of Australians have a common chronic health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, a mental illness, or cancer. Importantly, almost a quarter have two or more of these conditions, often making experiences of health and healthcare particularly complex.

Many chronic health conditions share common preventable risk factors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and not getting enough exercise-in fact, around one-third of the nation's 'disease burden' is due to preventable risk factors.

Expanding waistlines are a notable example: about 6 in 10 adults-or 63%-are either overweight or obese, while carrying too much weight is responsible for 7% of the total disease burden.

Over the past two decades, the proportion of Australians who have a healthy body weight fell, while the proportion who are obese increased. Over the same period, the proportion who are ‘severely obese’ nearly doubled.

AIHW CEO Barry Sandison said that when it comes to obesity, it is not just a case of poor diet or exercise habits.

"A range of factors-biological, behavioural, social and environmental-contribute to our likelihood of becoming obese, including the walkability of our cities, rising work hours and increasingly sedentary jobs, larger portion sizes and food advertising," he said.

"Understanding why someone may be obese-or in good or poor health generally-is complex and it's important to look at the raft of factors across a person's life that may be at play."

The full findings of the report are available on the AIHW website.