What is the burden of chronic disease?
A chronic disease, also known as a non-communicable disease, is a long-lasting and often progressive health condition such as arthritis, cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
Burden of disease measures the impact of living with disease and injury, and premature death.
Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death in Australia
This means that although Australians are living longer, we are living more years in ill health – largely due to preventable chronic disease.
The cost of chronic disease to the community
The burden of disease is not equal among all Australians. Lower socioeconomic groups, people living in rural or remote areas, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are disproportionally affected. If all Australians experienced the same disease burden as the most advantaged Australians do, one fifth of the burden of chronic disease would be reduced. 3
The cost of chronic diseases to the community is considerable, and growing. Treatment of chronic diseases now consumes more than a third of health spending; in 2018–19 about $24 billion was attributable to potentially avoidable risk factors. 4
According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, over a third (38%) of Australia’s disease burden is attributable to risk factors such as tobacco use, obesity, dietary risks, high blood pressure and alcohol use. 3 Additionally, these risk factors cause half (54%) of all chronic disease deaths in Australia.
What are the trends in chronic disease in Australia?
The prevalence of chronic diseases is increasing in Australia. 5 It is expected that it will become more common for people to have two or more chronic conditions at the same time. 5
Just under half (47%) of Australians had one or more chronic conditions in 2017–18, an increase from 42% of people in 2007–08. This is associated with several factors, including our ageing population and risk factors such as poor diet and physical inactivity. 5
There has been an increase or no decrease in diseases that continue to make a significant number of Australians unwell, such as arthritis, diabetes, asthma, mental ill health and back pain. 6
Deaths from some chronic diseases are decreasing due to better treatments and fewer people smoking. Nevertheless, despite significant reductions in smoking in recent years, tobacco consumption remains the modifiable risk factor with the largest health burden associated. 7
There is continued inequity in the distribution of burden of disease based on socioeconomic group and remoteness. That is, people with different levels of educational attainments, income or housing stability are more or less likely to experience different risk factors for chronic disease. 8
How many Australians have a chronic disease?
What is the health burden of chronic disease?
Chronic diseases are the major cause of death in Australia and the biggest contributor to premature death and disability. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2 chronic disease caused the following in Australia:
How does chronic disease impact quality of life?
Chronic conditions cause disability and lives lived in ill health. They reduce people’s ability to enter or remain in the workforce, or to contribute to their families and communities. 2
- Half of people aged 18 and over who have more than one chronic disease experience disability, restriction or limitation compared with 7.9% of people of the same age with no long-term conditions.
- Over one third (35%) of people with chronic diseases report they experience high or very high levels of psychological distress (compared with 4.3% of those without chronic disease).
- Most (88%) people with chronic disease experience recent pain, compared to 55% of those without chronic disease.
- Compared with people of the same age, people with chronic illnesses are 60% less likely to participate in the labour force, are less likely to be employed full time, and are more likely to be unemployed than people without chronic disease.
What is the economic burden of chronic disease?
Preventable chronic diseases have a significant economic impact on Australia. 12 Total health system spending due to potentially avoidable risk factors in 2018–19 was $24 billion. A third of this was due to overweight and obesity and tobacco use. 4
The burden of chronic diseases affects different parts of the economy.
For the health system, the economic costs of chronic disease include identifying, diagnosing, managing and providing ongoing surveillance of disease.
Chronic diseases and their risk factors are also associated with a range of other costs to government, industry and society beyond the health system. These include increased crime and violence from alcohol consumption, reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and presenteeism (failing to perform at one’s best at work due to illness), premature retirement or mortality.
The economic costs of lower productivity are often estimated to be much larger than healthcare and other costs to government.
The evidence suggests that even small changes in the prevalence of risk factors for chronic disease are likely to lead to significant reductions in the health burden for individuals and the healthcare system, as well as a reduction in economic and societal costs for communities, businesses and governments. 7
More about prevention
What are the economic benefits of prevention?Chronic diseases are associated with significant costs to the health system and broader societal costs. Prevention lowers healthcare costs and costs to the economy.
What are the co-benefits of prevention?Addressing the root causes of chronic disease can sometimes also benefit other sectors. A co-benefits approach can help governments prioritise action.
What are the benefits of prevention for health and wellbeing?Preventing chronic disease helps people to lead their best possible life. It avoids strain on the health budget and communities.
What is prevention?Prevention – also called preventive health – is defined as any action taken to keep people healthy and well, and prevent or avoid risk of poor health, illness, injury and early death.
Find out more
The publications and other resources listed in the references below may be useful to those looking for more detailed and in-depth evidence around the benefits of chronic disease prevention.
- World Health Organization 2020. The top 10 causes of death. Accessed 20 April 2022 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Australia’s health 2020 snapshots. Australia’s health series no. 17. Canberra: AIHW. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/australias-health/australias-health-snapshots
- Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network 2020. Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 (GBD 2019) Results. Seattle, United States: IHME. Accessed 20 April 2022.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022. Health system spending per case of disease and for certain risk factors. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/health-welfare-expenditure/health-system-spending-per-case-of-disease/contents/about
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2021. Chronic condition multimorbidity. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-disease/chronic-condition-multimorbidity/contents/chronic-conditions-and-multimorbidity
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2021. Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018: key findings. Canberra: AIHW. https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/d2a1886d-c673-44aa-9eb6-857e9696fd83/aihw-bod-30.pdf.aspx?inline=true
- Howse, E, Crosland, P, Rychetnik, L, Wilson, A. The value of prevention: An Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute for the Centre for Population Health, NSW Ministry of Health. Sydney, Australia: The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, 2021.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2071.0 – Census of Population and Housing: Reflecting Australia – Stories from the Census, 2016. https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/2071.0~2016~Main%20Features~Socio-Economic%20Advantage%20and%20Disadvantage~123
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Canberra, Australia: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2019. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/burden-of-disease/burden-disease-study-illness-death-2015/contents/table-of-contents
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2022. Australia’s mothers and babies. Accessed 23 Aug 22 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mothers-babies/australias-mothers-babies-data-visualisations/contents/antenatal-period/body-mass-index
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Overweight and obesity among Australian children and adolescents. Canberra: AIHW. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/overweight-obesity/overweight-obesity-australian-children-adolescents/summary
- Crosland P, Ananthapavan J, Davison J, Lambert M, Carter R. The health burden of preventable disease in Australia: a systematic review. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2019;43(2):163-70. doi:10.1111/1753-6405.12882
- The value of prevention
This rapid review focuses on identifying and demonstrating the value of prevention in an Australian context. The review builds on previous work that has considered the health and other benefits of prevention and the cost-effectiveness of preventive health interventions.
- National Preventive Health Strategy 2021-2030
- AIHW Burden of Disease study 2018
- AIHW snapshot: Chronic conditions and multimorbidity
- Crosland et al. The health burden of preventable disease in Australia: a systematic review.
- Crosland et al. The economic cost of preventable disease in Australia: a systematic review of estimates and methods
- The National Strategic Framework for Chronic Conditions
- PwC. Weighing the cost of obesity: A case for action. A study on the additional costs of obesity and benefits of intervention in Australia. PricewaterhouseCoopers; 2015. https://www.pwc.com.au/pdf/weighing-the-cost-of-obesity-final.pdf
- World Health Organization Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013–2020