Australia’s Chronic Disease Epidemic

Chronic conditions vary from minor ailments (e.g. short sightedness and minor hearing loss) to debilitating and restrictive ailments (e.g. musculoskeletal conditions) to potentially life-threatening illnesses (e.g. cancer and coronary heart disease).


2014-15 National Health Survey data also indicated that almost a quarter of all Australians (23 percent ), and 3 in each 5 Australians (60 percent ) aged over 65 years, had two or more chronic conditions.

Chronic conditions were responsible for approximately three-quarters of their complete non-fatal burden of disease in Australia in 2011 .

About a third of the weight experienced by the populace could be avoided by reducing the vulnerability to modifiable risk factors (including both behavioural and biomedical risk factors). The risk factors causing the most weight were tobacco use, higher body mass, alcohol use, physical inactivity and high blood pressure.  Additionally, they’re more prone to:

die at a younger age (passing rates are approximately 5 times that for non-Indigenous individuals in the 35-44yrs age group);

experience handicap; and report their health as fair.

Increasing incidence of chronic conditions has also been attributed to early detection and improved treatments for diseases which formerly caused premature death, in addition to behavioural aspects, such as smoking or poor diet, which increase the chance of developing chronic problems.

Population aging and improved treatments also have contributed to people living longer with chronic conditions.



Often more than one disease is related to a death and 3 ailments is the average. About 20 percent of deaths have 5 or more related ailments.

Cardiovascular diseases (coronary heart disease and stroke), dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, lung cancer and chronic respiratory disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are the most frequent underlying causes, jointly being accountable for two in every 5 (37%) deaths in Australia.


Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are the two leading causes of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, leading to 25% and 20% of deaths respectively, among this population group. Endocrine, metabolic and nutritional disorders (such as diabetes) and respiratory ailments are also notable causes of death among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, accounting for 8.9percent and 7.9percent of deaths respectively.


For additional detail about mortality rates for individual chronic conditions, please see the applicable Department of Health web page specific to each condition.  For health insurance for chronic diseases, we recommend I-Select.