4363.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: Users' Guide - Electronic Publication, 2007-08  
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This document was added or updated on 17/09/2009.

This document presents definitions for some of the terms used in this Guide and elsewhere in relation to the 2007-08 NHS. Further definitions are contained in the individual topic descriptions. It should be noted that the definitions used in this survey are not necessarily the same as those used for concepts or data items in other collections, and care should be taken when comparing data from different sources to ensure they are similarly defined.

Alcohol consumption risk level

Alcohol consumption risk level in the long-term was derived from the average daily consumption of alcohol by persons aged 15 years and over, collected for persons who had consumed alcohol in the week prior to the interview. Consumption details (type and volume of alcohol) were collected for the three most recent days of the week prior to interview on which alcohol was consumed. The data were then averaged over the days of the week the respondent reported having consumed alcohol, and grouped into relative risk levels according to the 2001 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines, as follows:


Consumption per day
Risk level Males Females

Low risk 50 mLs or less 25 mLs or less
Risky More than 50 mLs, up to 75 mLs More than 25 mLs, up to 50 mLs
High risk More than 75 mLs More than 50 mLs

(a) One standard drink contains 12.5 mLs of alcohol.

It should be noted that risk level as defined by the NHMRC is based on regular consumption levels of alcohol, however the NHS does not determine whether consumption in the reference week was more, less or the same as usual consumption.

Drinking status information was also collected for those who did not consume any alcohol in the week prior to interview, categorised as:
  • last consumed alcohol more than one week to less than 12 months ago;
  • last consumed alcohol 12 months or more ago; and
  • never consumed alcohol.

See Chapter 4: Health Risk Behaviours for more detail.

Ancillary cover

Any cover provided by private insurance organisations for health-related services other than medical or hospital cover (e.g. physiotherapy, dental, optical, chiropractic and ambulance).


Arthritis is characterised by an inflammation of the joints often resulting in pain, stiffness, disability and deformity.

ASGC Remoteness Structure

The Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) Remoteness Structure has 5 categories based on an aggregation of geographical areas which share common characteristics of remoteness, determined in the context of Australia as a whole. These categories are: Major cities of Australia, Inner regional Australia, Outer regional Australia, Remote Australia and Very remote Australia. The five categories are generally aggregated in some way for use in output.

The criteria for these categories are based on the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA) developed by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) and the National Key Centre for Social Applications of GIS (GISCA). ARIA measures the remoteness of a point based on the physical road distance to the nearest Urban Centre in each of five size classes. For more information on how ARIA is defined see Information Paper: ABS Views on Remoteness, 2001 (cat. no. 1244.0) and Information Paper: Outcomes of ABS Views on Remoteness Consultation, Australia, Jun 2001 (cat. no. 1244.0.00.001). Also refer to Census Geography Paper 03/01 - ASGC Remoteness Classification - Purpose and Use, available from the ABS web site.


A chronic disease marked by episodes of wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath associated with widespread narrowing of the airways within the lungs and obstruction of airflow. A person must have received treatment or medication in the last year to be recorded as currently having asthma.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify underweight, overweight and obesity. It is defined as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in metres (kg/m2). The NHS uses the World Health Organisation International Classification of adult underweight, overweight and obesity. Separate cut-off points by sex and age for each grouping are used for children aged 5 to 17 years, based on the corresponding scores for adults 18 years and over for each grouping. For more information, see Chapter 4: Health Risk Behaviours and Appendix 5: Classification of BMI for children.

BMI scores are derived for self-reported and measured height and weight for NHS 2007-08.

Cause of condition

Asked in respect of all the current long-term conditions which the respondent had previously reported. This refers to the respondent's perception of whether the condition was the result of an injury, and/or whether the condition was work-related (including injury at work).

Circulatory problems/diseases

Covers all diseases and related problems of the circulatory system. Includes specific conditions such as hypertension, angina, tachycardia, oedema, haemorrhoids, varicose veins and cardiac murmurs. For the purposes of condition status items in this survey, also includes high cholesterol. See also Heart, stroke and vascular diseases.

Co-morbid conditions

In this survey, co-morbid conditions refers to two or more medical conditions which a respondent has reported as current long-term conditions they have.


See long-term medical condition.

Condition status

Condition status brings together information about whether or not a person has ever been told by a doctor or nurse they have a condition, whether a condition was current at the time of the survey, and if current whether the condition was long-term (i.e. had lasted or was expected to last for 6 months or more).

Current daily smoker

A current daily smoker is an adult who reported that they regularly smoked one or more cigarettes, cigars or pipes per day. See also Smoker status.

Days away from work or study

Refers to days on which the respondent was away from work, school or other educational institution for at least half the day.

Days out of role

Days away from work or school/study, and other days of reduced activity due to own illness or injury.

Diabetes mellitus

A chronic condition in which blood glucose levels become too high due to the body producing little or no insulin, or not using insulin properly.

Dietary habits

In the 2007-08 NHS this term refers to usual daily serves of fruit, usual daily serves of vegetables and the main type of milk usually consumed. Usual daily serves of fruit and vegetables are listed separately in this Glossary. See also Inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption.

Disability Status

A disability or restrictive long-term health condition exists if a limitation, restriction, impairment, disease or disorder, which restricts everyday activities, has lasted, or is expected to last for six months or more.

It is classified by whether or not a person has a specific limitation or restriction. Specific limitation or restriction is further classified by whether the limitation or restriction is a limitation in core activities or a schooling/employment restriction only.

There are four levels of core activity limitation (profound, severe, moderate and mild) which are based on whether a person needs help or has difficulty with, or uses aids or equipment for, self care, mobility or communication. A person's overall level of core activity limitation is determined by their highest level of limitation in these activities.


Persons aged 15 and over who had a job or business, or who undertook work without pay in a family business for a minimum of one hour per week. Includes persons who were absent from a job or business. See also Unemployed and Not in the labour force.

Equivalised income

Equivalisation is a process whereby reported household income is adjusted to take account of the size and composition of the household. For further details see Chapter 6: Population characteristics.

Exercise level

Based on frequency, intensity (i.e. walking, moderate exercise and vigorous exercise) and duration of exercise (for recreation, sport or fitness) in the two weeks prior to the interview. Exercise level is also available for the week prior to the interview. From these components, an exercise score was derived using factors to represent the intensity of the exercise:
  • 3.5 for walking
  • 5.0 for moderate exercise
  • 7.5 for vigorous exercise

Scores were grouped into the following four categories:

Exercise level Criteria

Sedentary Scores less than 100 (includes no exercise)
Low Scores of 100 to less than 1600
Moderate Scores of 1600 to 3200, or more than 3200 but less than 2 hours vigorous exercise
High Scores greater than 3200 and 2 hours or more of vigorous exercise

For exercise levels in the last week, scores and time periods are halved.

Inadequate exercise levels are sedentary and low exercise levels. Sedentary refers to sitting in one place for extended periods of time. See also Physical Activity guidelines, and Chapter 4: Health Risk Behaviours for more detail.

Government health card

Refers to coverage by the following government-issued cards which entitle the card holder, and in some cases their dependents, to a variety of health benefits or concessions (e.g. medical care, hospital treatment/accommodation, supply of pharmaceuticals, free of charge or at reduced rates).
  • any cards from the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA);
  • Health Care Card (including the low income health care card);
  • Pensioner Concession Card; and
  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card.

Health-related actions

Refers to the following health-related action(s) respondents reported they had taken.
  • Visit to casualty/emergency units at hospitals (for asthma only);
  • Consultation with general practitioner (GP) and/or specialist;
  • Consultation with other health professionals (OHP): see separate entry in this Glossary; and
  • Days away from work or school;

Heart, stroke and vascular conditions

A subset of reported long-term conditions comprising the following:
  • Angina and other ischaemic heart disease;
  • Cerebrovascular disease;
  • Heart failure;
  • Oedema; and
  • Diseases of arteries, arterioles and capillaries.

Herbal and natural medications

Herbal and natural medications as reported by respondents. The data covers herbal and natural medications used in the previous 2 weeks for asthma, cancer, heart and circulatory conditions, diabetes and high sugar levels, mental health and well-being, arthritis and osteoporosis/osteopenia. Limited information on types of herbal and natural medication was collected for medication reported for arthritis or osteoporosis/osteopenia; otherwise information on types of herbal and natural medication used was not collected in this survey.

Hospital cover

Health insurance provided by a private insurance organisation to cover all or part of the costs of private accommodation in a public hospital, charges for private hospital treatment and care in a public hospital by a doctor of the patients choice.


A household is defined as one or more persons, at least one of whom is at least 15 years of age, usually resident in the same private dwelling.

Household income

Reported as the sum of the personal cash incomes of all household members aged 15 years and over. Household income is available in dollar amounts and deciles/quintiles, in reported and equivalised form.

Household structure

Refers to the composition of the household to which the respondent belonged: for further details see Chapter 6: Population characteristics.


High sugar levels in blood or urine.


ICD-10 refers to the tenth revision of the International Classification of Diseases and Health Related Problems. The classification of long-term conditions most commonly used in output from the 2007-08 NHS was developed for use in this survey based on the ICD-10: see Appendix 2: Classification of Medical Conditions.

Inadequate Fruit or Vegetable Intake

This refers to inadequate fruit or vegetable dietary intake as reported by the respondent, based on the NHMRC Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults and Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia.


Incidence refers to the number of new cases of a particular characteristic, such as cancer, which occur within a certain period. This differs from prevalence, which refers to the number of cases of a particular characteristic that are present in a population at one point in time.

Index of disadvantage

This is one of four Socio-economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFAs) compiled by ABS following each Census of Population and Housing, from various characteristics of persons resident in particular areas. The Index of Disadvantage summarises attributes such as income, educational attainment, unemployment and occupation skill levels. For further information see Chapter 6: Population characteristics.


Refers to people who identified themselves, or were identified by another household member, as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin.

Ischaemic heart disease

A disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle.

In the labour force

People who, during the reference week, were employed or unemployed, as defined (See also Labour force status).

Kessler 10 (K10)

See Psychological distress.

Labour force status

Refers to the employment situation of respondents at the time of the survey. Categories are:
  • Employed;
  • Unemployed (aged 15 years and over, not employed and actively looked for work in the 4 weeks prior to the survey); and
  • Not in the labour force (all children less than 15 years, and persons 15 years and over who were neither employed or unemployed).

Level of highest non-school educational qualification

The level of the highest educational qualification obtained other than school qualification; may include non-school qualification obtained while still at school.

Long-term medical condition

A medical condition (illness, injury or disability) which has lasted at least six months, or which the respondent expects to last for six months or more. Some reported conditions were assumed to be long-term in the 2007-08 NHS, including asthma, arthritis, gout, rheumatism, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, rheumatic heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Main language spoken at home other than English

Obtained for adults only and refers to the language reported by the respondent as the main language they speak at home.


Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) or intensity values are a measure of the energy expenditure required to carry out exercise, expressed as a multiple of the resting metabolic rate (RMR). MET is defined as the ratio of metabolic rate (and therefore the rate of energy consumption) during a specific physical activity to a reference rate of metabolic rate at rest. MET or intensity values operate as a factor when determining level of exercise. The 2007-08 NHS used the following intensity factors - 3.5 for walking, 5.0 for moderate exercise and 7.5 for vigorous exercise. MET values of physical activities range from 0.9 (sleeping) to 18 (running at 17.5 km/h).

Moderate exercise

Exercise for recreation, sport or fitness which caused a moderate increase in heart rate or breathing.

National Health Priority Areas (NHPA)

Comprises asthma, cancer, diabetes/high sugar levels, heart and circulatory conditions, musculoskeletal conditions (arthritis and osteoporosis/osteopenia), and mental health.


A neoplasm is a new growth of abnormal tissue (a tumour). Tumours can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Cancer refers to several diseases and can affect most types of cells in various parts of the body.

Not in the labour force

Persons who are not employed or unemployed as defined, including persons who:
  • are retired;
  • no longer work;
  • do not intend to work in the future;
  • are permanently unable to work; and
  • have never worked and never intend to work.


A swelling of any organ or tissue due to accumulation of excess fluid.


A condition that thins and weakens bone mineral density, generally caused by loss of calcium, which leads to increased risk of fracture.

Other health professionals (OHP)

  • Accredited counsellor;
  • Acupuncturist;
  • Chemist (advice only);
  • Chiropodist/podiatrist;
  • Chiropractor;
  • Diabetes Educator;
  • Dietitian/nutritionist;
  • Naturopath;
  • Nurse;
  • Occupational therapist;
  • Optician/optometrist;
  • Osteopath;
  • Physiotherapist/hydrotherapist;
  • Psychologist; and
  • Social worker/welfare officer.

Pharmaceutical medications

Any medication used in the two weeks prior to interview for the treatment of asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis, heart and circulatory conditions, diabetes/HSL or mental health and wellbeing. Does not include medications identified by respondents as vitamins or minerals, or natural or herbal medications. See Type of medication.


The number of cases of a particular characteristic (e.g. a specific long-term condition such as cancer) that are present in a population at one point in time. This differs from incidence, which refers to the number of new cases of a particular characteristic occurring within a certain period.

Private health insurance

Refers to the private health insurance coverage at the time of the survey of persons aged 15 years or more. The category 'With cover' includes those with hospital and/or ancillary cover, and those with cover whose type of cover was unknown.

Psychological distress

Derived from the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale -10 items (K10). This is a scale of non-specific psychological distress based on 10 questions about negative emotional states in the four weeks prior to interview. The K10 is scored from 10 to 50, with higher scores indicating a higher level of distress. For the NHS, scores are grouped as follows:
  • Low 10-15;
  • Moderate 16-21;
  • High 22-29; and
  • Very high 30-50.

Data is only collected from respondents aged 18 years and over.

Risky/high risk alcohol consumption

This is a combination of Moderate (or 'Risky') and High alcohol risk consumption levels in the long term. See Alcohol risk level.


Four Indexes compiled by the ABS following each population Census. Each index summarises different aspects of the socio-economic condition of areas. The Index of Disadvantage is the SEIFA index most frequently used in health analysis.

The Indexes available for use with 2007-08 NHS data are those compiled from the 2001 and 2006 Census of Population and Housing. The Index scores have been mapped to the NHS sample at both the CD and SLA levels. For further information about the indexes, see Information Paper: Census of Population and Housing - Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas, Australia (ABS Cat no 2039.0).

Self-assessed body mass

Respondents reported assessment of themselves as being of acceptable weight, underweight or overweight.

Self-assessed health status

A person's general assessment of their own health against a five point scale from excellent through to poor.

Significance testing

To determine whether a difference between two survey estimates is a real difference in the populations to which the estimates relate, or merely the product of different sampling variability, the statistical significance of the difference can be tested. This is particularly useful for interpreting apparent changes in estimates over time. The test is done by calculating the standard error of the difference between two estimates and then dividing the actual difference by the standard error of the difference. If the result is greater than 1.96, there are 19 chances in 20 that there is a real difference in the populations to which the estimates relate. For further information see Chapter 7: Data Quality and Interpretation of Results.

Smoker status

The extent to which a person aged 15 years and over was smoking at the time of interview, referring to regular smoking of tobacco, including manufactured (packet) cigarettes, roll-your-own cigarettes, cigars and pipes, but excluding chewing tobacco and smoking of non-tobacco products. Categorised as:
  • Current daily smoker - a respondent who reported at the time of interview that they regularly smoked one or more cigarettes, cigars or pipes per day;
  • Current smoker: other - a respondent who reported at the time of interview that they smoked cigarettes, cigars or pipes less than weekly, or at least once a week, but not daily;
  • Ex-smoker - a respondent who reported they did not currently smoke, but had regularly smoked daily, or had smoked at least 100 cigarettes, or smoked pipes, cigars, etc at least 20 times in their lifetime; and
  • Never smoked - a respondent who reported they had never regularly smoked daily, and had smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and/or had smoked pipes, cigars, etc less than 20 times in their lifetime.

Type of condition

The type of medical condition as reported by respondents and/or office coded by ABS from the description provided by respondents. All reported long-term medical conditions are coded to a classification developed by the ABS for use in the National Health Survey based on the tenth revision of the International Classification of Diseases and Health Related Problems (ICD-10). See also ICD-10.

Type of medication

Obtained for medication reported as used in the two weeks prior to interview for asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis, heart and circulatory conditions, diabetes, mental health conditions or psychological distress. Included are vitamins and minerals, natural and herbal medication and pharmaceutical medication. Pharmaceutical medications are classified by generic type, based on reported medication name. The generic drug name is the non-proprietary name for the active chemicals in a medicine, in contrast to the proprietary name (trade or brand name) for a medicine. For further information see Appendix 3: Classification of Medications.

Type of medication used for mental health and wellbeing

Refers to the type of medication reported as used for mental health or wellbeing in the 2 weeks prior to interview. May include medications used for preventive health purposes as well as medications used for mental disorders, and includes vitamins and minerals, natural and herbal medications and pharmaceutical medications. Two items relating to type of medication are available for those with a mental health condition and for everyone aged 18 years and over related to psychological distress:
  • Type of medication as reported by respondent; e.g. sleeping tablet, antidepressant; and
  • Generic type of medication: e.g. citalopram.


Persons aged 15 years and over who were not employed and were actively looking for work in the four weeks prior to the survey, and available to start work in the week prior to the survey.

Usual daily intake of fruit

Refers to the number of serves of fruit (excluding drinks) usually consumed each day, as reported by the respondent. A serve is approximately 150 grams of fresh fruit or 50 grams of dried fruit. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends a minimum of one serve of fruit per day for children aged 4 to 11 years, three serves of fruit per day for children aged 12 to 17 years, and two serves of fruit per day for adults.

Usual daily intake of vegetables

Refers to the number of serves of vegetables (excluding drinks and beverages) usually consumed each day, as reported by the respondent. A serve is approximately half a cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of salad vegetables - equivalent to approximately 75 grams. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends a minimum of two serves of vegetables per day for children aged 4 to 7 years, three serves of vegetables per day for children aged 8 to 11 years, four serves of vegetables per day for children aged 12 to 17 years, and five serves of vegetables per day for adults.

Vigorous exercise

Exercise for fitness, recreation or sport which caused a large increase in heart rate or breathing.

Vitamin and mineral supplements

Vitamin and mineral supplements as reported by respondents. The data covers only vitamins and mineral supplements used in the previous 2 weeks for asthma, heart and circulatory conditions, diabetes/high sugar levels, arthritis, osteoporosis or mental well-being. Information on the types of vitamin and mineral supplements used was collected only for supplements reported as used for arthritis or osteoporosis.

Waist circumference

Waist circumference is associated with an increased risk of metabolic complications associated with obesity. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) approved the following guidelines for Caucasian men and women:

  • Substantially increased risk (more than or equal to 102cm)
  • Increased risk (more than or equal to 94cm)
  • Not at risk (less than 94cm)

  • Substantially increased risk (more than or equal to 88cm)
  • Increased risk (more than or equal to 80cm)
  • Not at risk (less than 80cm)

Work related conditions

Long-term medical conditions reported in the survey which the respondent reported as work related; may include conditions arising from injuries at work.

Year of arrival

The year in which a person, reporting a country of birth other than Australia, first arrived in Australia to live for a period of one year or more.