The disease impact or ‘burden of disease’ in Australia is a method of quantifying the difference between a population’s ideal health and its actual health.

Ideal health is defined as reaching old age in good health without disease or disability.

Disease impact or burden of disease uses a metric known as DALY (disability-adjusted life years) to calculate the number of life years suffered with disease or injury.

It is divided into ‘years lived with disability’ (YLD) or non-fatal diseases and ‘years of life lost’ (YLL) or fatal outcomes which measure the years short of life expectancy.

Diseases with a high number of DALY have the most significant impact or burden on a population and hence warrant the most attention, education, time and funding in an attempt to reduce that impact.

Disease trends in Australia over the last two decades

In 2023, Australians lost an incredible 5.6 million years of healthy life, according to The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

A little over 3 million years or 54% was non-fatal, forcing people to live with disability or illness.

While the balance of 2.6 million years or 46% was a result of dying prematurely.

Since 2003, the total number of DALY has remained relatively unchanged, increasing from 212 to 213 per 1000 population.

But the fatal burden has steadily reduced from 53% to 46% while the non-fatal burden has increased from 47% to 54%.

This is a positive outcome, underlining that life is being prolonged, albeit with disease or disability.

The goal has to be to further reduce the fatal burden while also reducing the total DALY per 1000 population, giving people more years in full health.

Disease groups causing highest burden

For the purposes of better understanding disease impact in Australia, diseases are bundled into groups.

This is particularly important when analysing data because there are many types of cancers.

The five disease groups accounting for 64% of the total disease burden in Australia in 2023 were:

  • 17% Cancer
  • 15% Mental/substance use
  • 13% Musculoskeletal
  • 12% Cardiovascular
  • 8% Neurological

Cancer and cardiovascular diseases have a high incidence of mortality while neurological diseases have fatal outcomes about half the time.

Mental disorders, substance use and musculoskeletal diseases almost always contribute to years living with disability rather than death.

Specific diseases causing highest burden

The top five specific diseases that impacted Australians in 2023 were:

  • 5.4% Coronary heart disease
  • 4.4% Dementia
  • 4.3% Back pain and associated problems
  • 3.9% Anxiety disorders
  • 3.6% Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Despite still being the most common cause of DALY in Australia, the incidence of coronary heart disease in Australia has reduced significantly in the last two decades.

Coronary heart disease DALY has almost halved from 21.6 to 11.5 per 1000 population in that time.

The disease impact of stroke, lung, bowel and breast cancer as well as rheumatoid arthritis has also fallen.

But dementia is on the rise!

It has doubled to a DALY of 9.3 per 1000 population in the last 20 years with back problems, anxiety and depressive disorders, COPD, osteoarthritis, asthma and type 2 diabetes also more prevalent.

Disease impact during different stages of life

Different diseases are more likely to present during different stages of life and there are also differences to be found between the sexes.

Under 5

This is when infant and congenital conditions, pre-term and low-birth weight complications struck.

Ages 5-14

Mental health disorders and respiratory conditions were most common. Boys were more likely to present with autism spectrum disorders while asthma was the leading cause of burden in girls.

Ages 15-24

Mental health disorders and substance use contributed the most burden.

This led to higher rates of suicide and self-inflicted injuries in males and anxiety disorders in females.

Ages 25-44

Mental health disorders and substance use was still prevalent in this group as well as musculoskeletal conditions.

Like the 15-24 age bracket, suicide and self-inflicted injuries were most common in males with anxiety disorders top for females.

Ages 45-64

This is a really important age group because it is when many chronic conditions begin to present.

Musculoskeletal conditions had the most disease impact for 45-64 year-olds.

Back problems, suicide and self-inflicted injuries, lung cancer and chronic liver disease emerged for men. 

Women were most affected by osteoporosis, breast cancer, anxiety disorders and rheumatoid arthritis.

Ages 65-84

In this age group, coronary heart disease, dementia, COPD and lung cancer had a high disease impact for both sexes.

Men suffered more from heart disease, women from dementia and COPD.

85 and beyond

Dementia was the leading cause of disease in both men and women although it affected women at a significantly higher rate.

Coronary heart disease, COPD, stroke and falls also took their toll with men also impacted by prostate cancer.

Life expectancy

During the last 20 years, men have gained more years in full health than women.

Men’s life expectancy climbed from 78.1 years in 2003 to 81.3 in 2023.

Of those additional 3.2 years, 2.2 were in full health.

Women’s life expectancy in the same period increased from 83 to 85.1 years.

But only 0.8 of those additional 2.1 years were being enjoyed in full health.

Book an appointment

When it comes to your health, knowing what diseases to be vigilant for is half the battle.

Understanding your body and your family history is also important.

Using all that information in tandem with regular GP health checks gives you the very best chance of living as long as possible in full health.

And that really is the key.

No-one wants to lose precious years of their life battling serious disease or disability.

That is why it is imperative to be proactive when it comes to your health and get on top of any issues before they manifest into serious or even life-threatening conditions.

At AHA Clinics, doctors always show great care, warmth and empathy to their patients.

They take the time to really listen and understand their concerns, whatever they may be and will consider or suggest further diagnostic investigation if necessary.

Book an appointment here today at either our Seaford Road Day and Night Clinic or our Seaford Meadows Day and Night Clinic.