Updated: Nov 4, 2019
With 50% of Australians now suffering from a chronic disease like, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer the call for action has never been louder. However, who is listening? The World Health Organization (WHO) has called ‘heart disease, stroke, cancer and other chronic diseases looming epidemics that will take the greatest toll in deaths and disability’. Historically health funding for chronic disease in Australia has favoured treatment over prevention, though there is a predicted shift in this with prevention becoming a priority action area in the health sector. Focus on early identification of an individual or population group’s risk of developing a chronic disease is most effective.
What are risk factors?
The determinants of health are influenced collectively by many factors whether behavioural or unmodifiable such as genetic predisposition. Risk factors are determinants affecting health that lead to poor outcomes. For example physical inactivity and/or sedentary lifestyle can increase the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. Similarly, there is strong evidence to suggest a direct association between overweight and obesity with heart disease, stroke, diabetes and colo-rectal cancer.
Reducing the risk
On the 19th of September 2019 the Australian Federal Government announced the first steps toward a National Preventative Health Strategy (NPH). An Expert Steering Committee was assembled and will provide advice on the development of the strategy.
"It is intended that the Strategy provide a long-term vision for improving the health of all Australians and that it stimulates a systemic shift to achieve a better balance between treatment and prevention."
Some themes arising form the NPH round table discussion on the 26th September 2019 were:
The role of major change (digital health) on the health system
the shared risk factors that contribute to the burden of disease
the possible approaches for framing the prevention strategy
On an individual level checking your risk of developing a chronic disease and implementing prevention strategies are both important.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming a balanced diet and limiting discretionary foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars, and alcohol.
Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Guidelines recommend moving more and sitting less. This could be achieved by aiming for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Reduce sedentary behavior or 'sitting time' by increasing incidental activities such as walking while on the phone. Add some active movement to your daily tasks each day, like a sit to stand exercise while waiting for the kettle to boil.
Overweight and obesity
Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight and waist circumference can reduce the risk of disease across all age groups. Healthy lifestyle programs that encourage and support small, incremental changes in behaviour can be invaluable in managing your weight or waist circumference.
Cessation of smoking is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease.
Check your Risk
Finally health checks undertaken by your local general practitioner or online risk calculator tools are the best ways to identify risk early and be supported towards reducing it. To find accredited allied health practitioners visit their respective associations here: DAA, ADEA or ESSA.
1. Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, (2018). Accessed via https://www.acdpa.org.au/
2. The World Health Organisation (2005), Preventing Chronic Diseases a vital investment. Accessed via https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/contents/part2.pdf
3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Australia's health 2018. 2018, AIHW: Canberra.
4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. Risk factors contributing to chronic disease. Cat No. PHE 157. Canberra: AIHW
5. National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.
6. Australian Government Department of Health, (2014) Australia's Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Guidelines. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health