Australia needs to do more for preventative health

19 October 2017

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The amount of money and attention on preventative healthcare on Australia is going backwards instead of forwards - and it's coming at a great cost, according to a new report from the McKell Institute, launched at the World Self Medication Industry (WSMI) General Assembly in Sydney today.

The report, Picking the low-hanging fruit - achieving a more equitable and sustainable health care system, notes that Australia has hit an unwanted milestone - in 2014-15, health care expenditure reached 10 per cent of GDP for the first time (AIHWa, 2016). Expenditure on health currently takes up around 25 per cent of State and Commonwealth revenue (Grattan Institute, 2014), with the trend rising.

The report also says that Australian policy-makers, healthcare practitioners and the public often overlook the important role of preventative healthcare, instead focussing on reactive health services. A point echoed through several sessions at the WSMI General Assembly is the need for the self-care to go beyond the management of minor and common ailments and move more into preventative measures to maintain health. Data from the Commonwealth Fund (2017) shows a decline in expenditure on preventative health per person in Australia since 2007-8. The McKell Institute report showed that preventative health care currently only makes up 1.4 per cent of health expenditure, yet almost a third of Australia's total burden of disease is linked to modifiable risk factors such as smoking, poor dietary nutrition and obesity (AIHWa, 2016).

Increasing the use of complementary therapies that have a strong evidence was considered one of the "low-hanging fruit" for Australians to use in the self care to help protect their health. The report used Vitamin D and calcium as examples where supplementation can reduce the prevalence of a number of chronic diseases, and where a dollar value had been placed on this through studies.

In Australia, approximately 30 per cent of Australians are suffering vitamin D deficiency (Daly et al., 2012), which has been linked to an increased prevalence of a number of chronic diseases:

  • Osteoporosis (Brincat, Gambin, Brincat, & Calleja-Agius, 2015)
  • Diabetes (Talaei, Mohamadi, & Adgi, 2013)
  • Heart Disease (Pilz, Tomaschitz, Drechsler, & de Boer, 2011)

The costs associated with osteoporosis alone in Australians over the age of 50 were estimated to be $2.75 billion, according toOsteoporosis costing all Australians: A New Burden of Disease Analysis - 2012 to 2022,which looked at the total costs of osteoporosis, osteopenia and fractures.

Against this backdrop, a catchcry repeated often by presenters at WSMI General Assembly was that Australians should aim to be "the CEO of their own health" - not just taking reacting to demands of their health and "doing the job", but playing an integral role in driving the direction of their health, through their own actions and in collaboration with healthcare professionals.

As its number one recommendation, the report says that Australia should re-establish a National Preventative Health body to evaluate the evidence of the cost effectiveness of new health interventions.

See full report here.