Preventative health reform key to reducing Australia’s disease burden

Preventative health

Preventative health reform key to reducing Australia’s disease burden

Preventative health

A new report on Australia’s health highlights the need for investment in preventative health care such as physiotherapy to combat growing rates of chronic disease including our two biggest killers, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Australia’s Health 2022 report illustrates the importance of addressing modifiable risk factors, such as obesity and lack of exercise, to prevent chronic diseases.

The report found that 3 in 10 adults (27%) were not performing recommended levels of physical activity and 2 in 3 Australians (67%) were overweight or obese.

“Chronic diseases such as heart disease, dementia, stroke, type 2 diabetes and musculoskeletal conditions can be prevented or delayed by addressing modifiable risk factors such as obesity or physical inactivity,” Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) National President Scott Willis said.

“High-quality physiotherapy as preventive activity over the lifecycle is key to reducing the disease burden.”

The report found 386,200 to 472,000 Australians were living with dementia in 2021. In 2020, dementia was the leading cause of death among women (9,325 deaths) and the second leading cause of death among men (5,250 deaths).

“As our population ages, dementia cases and deaths are rising. We know that a healthy lifestyle including physical activity may prevent and delay the onset of the disease and that early intervention measures by physiotherapists in assessing and treating people living with dementia can achieve positive outcomes,” Mr Wills said.

Chronic disease burden included:

  • 3 in 10 (27%, or 6.9 million) people had arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis in 2020-21
  • 1 in 20 (almost 1.3 million) people were living with diabetes (type 1, type 2 and other diabetes) in 2020
  • 1 in 3 (30% or 7.5 million) people had a chronic respiratory disease in 2020-21
  • 387,000 people aged 15 and over (214,000 males and 173,000 females) had had a stroke at some time in their lives in 2018.

The report traced the rates of illness and deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic finding that the rate of severe disease from COVID-19 (intensive care unit admission and/or death) increased from 0.4 per 100,000 people in December 2021 to 3.7 per 100,000 people in January 2022.

“The pandemic is far from over,” Mr Willis said.

“Physiotherapists have been vital in providing lifesaving respiratory intervention in COVID-19 patients and will be equally important in treating those people afflicted by Long COVID.

“We need to move fast to advance pathways to COVID recovery,” Mr Willis said.

Physiotherapists are experts in the structure of the human body and its movement. They work with people of all ages to treat a broad range of health conditions including sports injuries and musculoskeletal conditions as well as chronic health conditions such as respiratory illnesses, diabetes, obesity, osteoarthritis and stroke. Physiotherapists are involved in the assessment, diagnosis, planning and management of patient care.


Scott Willis is available for further comment.


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