Chronic diseases are the leading cause of illness and disability in Australia today with 89% of deaths in 2018 associated with these chronic conditions.
Not included in this death rate but equally important is the rising burden of mental health disease which has significant adverse health outcomes for many Australians.
There has been a huge rise in these chronic conditions which are largely preventable. They are are associated with obesity, an increase in sedentary lifestyles, poor diet, smoking and excessive alcohol intake. It is important to note that not only are they the leading cause of premature death in Australia, they also impact negatively on how individuals are able to lead their lives – decreasing their quality of life.
It is an important health initiative which if delivered efficiently, will reduce the number of Australians developing these diseases. This will increase individual’s quality of life and in turn improve the economic burden associated with managing these illnesses in our society.
Unsurprisingly, a healthy lifestyle is vital for preventing chronic disease.
Eating a balanced and nutritious diet
This can help reduce the risk of developing lifestyle disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. Included in our diet should be 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits every day. Healthy fats in things like avocado, fatty fish, nuts and oils should replace unhealthy fats (processed meats, hard cheese, butter etc.) and adequate proteins should be included in every meal. DO NOT do fad diets. They do not work and have serious health consequences as most recommend excluding an essential food group (for example carbohydrates).
Moving your body
Physical activity is one of the most important things we can do for our overall health. Not only does it increase life expectancy, it also makes us stronger; helps improve and mental health; helps maintain a healthy body weight; Reduces cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers; increases bone density and reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis; improves balance and decreases falls in the elderly.
Everyone knows that smoking is just BAD!! It is probably the single most avoidable cause of disease, disability and death. Yet people are still smoking. Smoking is known to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. In addition, its expensive!!! Its $50 that could be better spent on a gym membership!!!
Limiting alcohol consumption
Alcohol is associated with a wide range of physical and social problems. Alcohol contributes to a major health burden in Australia. Harms related to drinking result in more than 4,000 deaths and 70,000 hospital admissions every year. Not only is it associated with a wide range of psychical problems; it also is associated with many social problems too (gambling and domestic violence).
The current Australia guidelines state that we should drink no more than 10 standard drinks in any week and no more than 4 drinks on any one day.
Remember that age, gender and other factors will influence this and the guidelines are a recommendation only. Alcohol is not recommended at all in pregnancy or when breastfeeding; and not recommended in children under 18 years of age.
Being sun smart
Every year in Australia skin cancers account for 80% of all cancer diagnosis. We have one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world; 2-3 times more than Canada, the UK and he US. Most skin cancers are directly related to sun exposure so it is imperative to be sun smart at all stages of life. The age-old mantra… slip, slop, slap, wrap and find some shade!!
Other important preventative health activities include immunisation programs, screening programs (e.g. cervical & breast screening) and opportunistic patient education.
Information and education is available from birth and systems such as the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR) and GP recall systems make it easier by sending out reminders which vaccination are due. There are certain groups of Australians in whom additional vaccinations are recommended and some in whom vaccinations are contraindicated.
Cervical screening program
Breast cancer screening:
Bowel cancer screening:
Other preventable health conditions:
Type 2 diabetes:
Type 2 diabetes is a condition of insulin resistance; risk factors include age, race, family history, women who have had gestational diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome and being overweight. GPs can identify those at high risk opportunistically or if you think you may be at increased risk present and ask to be tested for diabetes – a simple blood test.
Sexually transmitted disease:
Anyone who is sexually active should consider testing for sexually transmitted infections which include chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Particularly at risk of these disease are young people, men who have sex with men and those that participate in other risky behaviours (drug use). Many of these infections are asymptomatic but can have huge impacts on our reproductive organs which may affect fertility. Please don’t be embarrassed!! Most of these diseases can be screened for with a simple urine test; the blood borne viruses like HIV will need a blood test.
Cardiovascular disease and Cholesterol:
Cardiovascular risk assessment combines risk factors to calculate the probability that someone will develop a cardiovascular event (heart attack) or other vascular disease (Stroke). This should be started every 2 years from 45years on most individuals (earlier in some groups e.g. ATSI). This mostly involves a chat with you doctor, a simple examination (BP) and a blood test +/- other investigations.
These are only a few of the preventable diseases that impact on our health in Australia. Not mentioned is arthritis, back pain, chronic kidney disease, mental illness and osteoporosis. As you can see, many of these diseases are silent – therefore they are not picked up by the individual until they are advanced and have already caused some damage to the body.
This is why it is important to get yourself a good GP; and make sure you pay them a visit at least every year so that they can assess your risk and conduct appropriate investigation to maintain your health and prevent illness.