Poorer Aussies dying early as gap with rich widens, study finds

The gap between the richest and poorest Aussies is widening, with the poor more likely to die early, be physically inactive, obese and die by suicide, a new study shows.

And if the gulf is not reduced, Australia’s average future life expectancy will be affected, researchers have warned in a report released on Thursday.

The dramatic difference in preventable deaths between the top and bottom 20 per cent of income earners has been laid bare in Australia’s Health Tracker by Socio-economic Status 2021, released by Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute.

The report card compared the richest 20 per cent of Australians to the poorest 20 cent, finding the poorest were 1.5 times more likely to die early.

They were also 70 per cent more likely to be physically inactive, almost three times more likely to smoke, 57 per cent more likely to be obese and twice as likely to have diabetes.

The poorest were also 80 per cent more likely to die by suicide, twice as likely to be jobless if they had mental illness and more than twice as likely to have heart disease.

During 2014-18, there was estimated to be at least 18,000 more premature deaths in the most socio-economically disadvantaged communities, than in the most advantaged.

Premature deaths are those deemed potentially avoidable from disease between the ages of 30 and 70.

Even middle class Australians were 23 per cent more likely to die of preventable illness, compared to the richest, the researchers said.

Researchers also found 10 million Australians were at much greater risk of poor health, due to living in lower and lowest socio-economic areas.

One third of the burden of disease in the population was preventable, though, by reducing risk factors such as smoking, obesity, dietary risk and high blood pressure, the authors said.

However, Australia’s dedicated investment in preventive health was low, comprising 1.34 per cent of health spending.

The report authors also said the health disparities within the Australian population were persistent despite considerable policy reform and efforts to improve services in recent decades.

They said the effects of disadvantage needed “deliberate and urgent attention” so all Australians had a better chance for improved health and to reduce the burden on health services and spending.

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Author: Shirley