Australian Bureau of Statistics
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2006
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/07/2006
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Chronic Conditions and Disability
Arthritis and related disorders, and back problems, were the two conditions most commonly reported as causing most problems for people with a disability.
In 2004–05, over three-quarters (77%) of the 19.7 million people living in private dwellings had at least one chronic health condition. The proportion of the population with at least one condition increased with age, from 41% of children aged under 15 years to almost 100% of people aged 65 years and over. These high proportions partly reflect the large number of people with some very common but less serious conditions. For example, the most commonly reported conditions were long sightedness (27%), short sightedness (22%) and hayfever and allergic rhinitis (16%).
However, other chronic conditions had the potential for more serious effects on a person's wellbeing. The more serious long term conditions reported in 2004–05 included some prioritised (EndNote 1)), by the Australian Health Ministers. These comprise some large groups of conditions: circulatory conditions (reported by 18% of the population living in private dwellings), mental and behavioural disorders (11%) and cancer (2%); as well as some more specific conditions: asthma (10%), diabetes (4%), arthritis (15%) and osteoporosis (3%). Injury prevention and control is also a priority area and 16% of the population reported that they had long term effects of injury.
Some conditions are present from birth (e.g. congenital conditions like Down syndrome) while others often appear in childhood (e.g. asthma) or later in life (e.g. hypertension). Asthma was the most common condition among children (12%) and hayfever and allergic rhinitis among youth (19%). Among people aged 25–64 years the leading conditions were sight problems (63%) and back problems (23%). Among people aged 65 years and over, the most common conditions were sight problems (96%), arthritis (49%), hypertension (39%) and hearing loss (34%).
SELECTED CHRONIC CONDITIONS - 2004-05
CHRONIC CONDITIONS AND DISABILITY
One of the ways people with chronic disease may be affected by their illness is through disability. That is they may be limited in being able to carry out at least one everyday
In 2003, 20% of the Australian population, or 4 million people, had a disability. This included 6% of the population (1.2 million people) with more severe disability. These were people who sometimes or always needed help with everyday tasks like walking or dressing, or who had difficulty communicating. The rates of disability increased with age and more severe disability accounted for a greater proportion of all disability at older ages.
People with disability usually had more than one chronic health condition. While there are various approaches to analysing the relationship between the health conditions and the disabilities reported, a simple question 'What is the condition causing most problems?' was included in the disability survey. The most common specific main condition was a musculoskeletal condition: back problems, reported by 610,000 people. The ten leading specific main conditions were reported by 53% of people with a disability.
PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY: LEADING MAIN CONDITIONS (a) - 2003
The 1.4 million people reporting a musculoskeletal condition as the condition causing most problems comprised 34% of the 4 million people with a disability. Back problems and arthritis were the most common main conditions within this group, reported by 15% and 14% of people with a disability respectively. They were also the most common specific main conditions reported out of any condition group.
The types of disability which caused most problems for people with musculoskeletal conditions as the main condition were: chronic or recurring pain or discomfort (39%), restriction in physical activities (23%) and difficulty gripping or holding things (11%).
...MENTAL AND BEHAVIOURAL DISORDERS
People with a mental or behavioural disorder as their main condition comprised 16% of people with a disability. The most common main conditions within this group were depression/mood (affective) disorders, reported as a main condition by 3% of people with a disability, followed by developmental disorders (2%) and nervous tension or stress (2%). The disability types causing most problems when mental and behavioural disorders were the main condition were: being slow at learning or understanding (33%), mental illness (20%), nervous or emotional conditions (18%) and speech difficulties (8%).
People reporting circulatory conditions as their main condition accounted for 9% of people with a disability. The specific circulatory conditions most commonly reported as main conditions were hypertension (2%), stroke (2%) and heart disease (2%). The types of disability that people with circulatory conditions as their main condition reported as causing most problems were restriction in physical activities or work (28%), loss of hearing (13%), breathing difficulties (11%) and chronic or recurring pain or discomfort (9%).
MORE SEVERE DISABILITY
Mental and behavioural conditions were more prominent as main conditions for more severe disability than for disability as a whole. They were reported as the conditions causing most problems for 23% of people with profound or severe core activity limitations compared with 16% of all people with disability. Nevertheless, musculoskeletal conditions were the most commonly reported main conditions for people with more severe disability (30%) as they were for all people with disability (34%).
Depression was one of the leading ten specific main conditions for more severe disability and disability as a whole. Three other specific mental and behavioural disorders were among the leading ten specific main conditions for more severe disability although they ranked lower for all disability. These were dementia, attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) and autism and related disorders. (The three conditions that ranked among the leading ten for all disability but not for more severe disability were leg damage, migraine and hypertension.) Stroke ranked fourth among main conditions for more severe disability and tenth for disability as a whole.
Overall, 31% of all people with a disability had more severe disability. However, almost all of the 58,600 people with disability and with dementia as the main condition had more severe disability. Another leading main condition which was strongly associated with more severe disability was stroke: 49,000 of the 70,000 people who had a disability and who reported stroke as the main condition had more severe disability (71%). Of people with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) as the main condition, 44% had more severe disability. Similarly, 30% of people with disability and depression/mood (affective) disorders as the main condition, and 30% of people with arthritis and related disorders as the main condition, had more severe disability.
PEOPLE WITH MORE SEVERE DISABILITY: LEADING MAIN CONDITIONS(A) - 2003
PEOPLE WITH MORE SEVERE DISABILITY(A) AS A PROPORTION OF ALL PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY, BY MAIN CONDITION - 2003
REPORTED CAUSE OF MAIN CONDITIONS
In 2003, 7% of people with a disability had a main condition which had been present at birth. Other people's main conditions were perceived to arise over the life cycle, being reported as due to: accident or injury (15%), disease, illness or hereditary factors (14%), working conditions, work or overwork (11%), stress, personal or family problems (4%) or allergy, smoking or side effects (4%). However, main conditions were most commonly perceived as having 'just come on' or as due to old age (28%). The reported causes 'present from birth', 'disease, illness or hereditary' and 'just came on or due to old age' were more prominent for people with profound or severe core activity limitation than for all people with a reported disability. People's perceptions of the causes of main conditions do not necessarily correspond to medical opinion. Among conditions reported as having 'just come on' would be some which could potentially have been prevented through changes to diet, exercise, smoking or other behaviour.
MAIN CONDITIONS: REPORTED CAUSES - 2003
SELECTED AGE GROUPS
...CHILDREN 0–14 YEARS
The leading main conditions among children varies from the total picture, which is dominated by adults and particularly by older people. In 2003, 8% of children aged 0–14 years had a disability (320,000 people). This included 4% of the age group who had more severe disability (167,000 people). Restriction in education is a form of disability which is particularly prevalent among children. There were 200,000 children with restrictions in education (5%). Most children with more severe disability (i.e. who sometimes or always needed help with mobility, self care or communication) also had a restriction in education (70%).
Mental and behavioural disorders were the most commonly reported main conditions for children with a disability (47% or 151,000 children), followed by respiratory conditions (13%). The leading mental and behavioural condition reported as causing most problems for children was attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), reported for 12% of children with a disability. This was followed by developmental disorders other than learning disorders (10%), autism and related disorders (5%) and mental retardation/ intellectual disability (4%). Asthma accounted for most children with a respiratory condition as main condition (12%).
Some other common specific main conditions (from other disease groups) were speech impediments (6%), unspecified speech difficulties (5%) and complete or partial deafness/hearing loss (4%). Children's main conditions were most often reported as present from birth (33%), to have 'just came on' (20%) or as due to disease, illness or hereditary (16%). Consistent with the main conditions, the disability types causing most problems for children were being slow at learning or understanding (39%), speech difficulties (20%) and breathing difficulties (8%).
…PEOPLE AGED 45–64 YEARS
The differences between the leading main conditions for children and adults reflects both the greater number of years adults have lived, resulting in an increased chance of having experienced injury or contracted conditions, and the effects of ageing. Adults aged 45–64 years are of interest because early diagnosis of chronic conditions, followed by treatment and/or lifestyle changes, could improve health at older ages.
Of adults aged 45–64 years, 27% had a disability (1.2 million people) including 6% of this age group who had more severe disability (289,000 people). The proportion of the population with an employment restriction increases with age up to 65 years. Restrictions in schooling or employment were reported by 901,000 people in this age group (19%). Most of the 289,000 people with more severe disability had an employment or schooling restriction (89%) as well as being limited in core everyday activities.
Diseases of the musculoskeletal system was the most common main condition group (45%), followed by mental and behavioural disorders (10%). The leading specific main conditions reported for people with a disability were back problems (22%), arthritis (17%), complete or partial deafness or hearing loss (5%) and depression and mood (affective) disorders (3%).
In this age group 'just came on or due to old age' was the most common reported cause of main conditions (23%) followed by 'accident or injury' (20%) and 'work, working conditions and overwork' (17%). The disability types causing most problems for people aged 45–64 years were chronic or recurring pain or discomfort (27%), restriction in physical activities or work (19%), loss of hearing (9%) and difficulty gripping and holding things (9%).
...PEOPLE AGED 65 YEARS AND OVER
More than half of people aged 65 years and over had a disability (56% or 1.4 million people). Compared with 45–64 year olds, disability tended to be more severe in this age group: 23% of those aged 65 years and over (around 40% of those with a disability in this age group) had a profound or severe core activity limitation (562,000 people). The rate of disability increased with age among older people, as did their need for assistance (for more information see Australian Social Trends 2005, Older people with disabilities. pp. 74–77 and Australian Social Trends 2006, Older people in cared accommodation, pp. 84–88.)
The leading main condition group was diseases of the musculoskeletal system (36%), followed by diseases of the circulatory system (16%), mental/behavioural conditions (9%) and diseases of the ear and mastoid processes (9%). The leading specific main conditions reported among people aged 65 years and over were: arthritis and related disorders (21%), back problems (9%) and complete or partial deafness (8%).
Main conditions were most commonly reported to have just come on or to be due to old age (43%) followed by being due to disease, illness or hereditary (15%). The disability types reported as causing most problems among older people were restriction in physical activities or work (21%), complete or partial deafness/hearing loss (18%) and chronic or recurring pain or discomfort (16%).
2. World Health Organisation, Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, viewed 12 May 2006,
3. Department of Health and Ageing, Australian Better Health Initiative: promoting good health, prevention and early intervention, viewed 18 May 2006, <http://www.health.gov.au/internet/wcms/publishing.nsf/Content/feb2006coag03.htm>.
4. Department of Health and Agening, Health priorities, viewed 25 May 2006,
This page last updated 3 August 2007
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