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There were large differences in distance to hospitals across the country. While about 95% of Indigenous people in Victoria were reported to be living within 25 km of the nearest hospital, one in two Indigenous people in the Northern Territory had to travel over 100 km.
Close to 90% of Indigenous people were located within 25 km of the nearest community health centre, and about half lived within this distance of an Aboriginal Medical Service.
PERCEIVED HEALTH-RELATED AND SUBSTANCE USE PROBLEMS
Nationally, alcohol was seen as the main health problem. About 58% of Indigenous people aged 13 years and older thought that alcohol was a health problem in their area. Drugs and diabetes were the next most commonly reported problems, followed by diet/nutrition, heart problems and skin problems. Alcohol was considered by 75% of respondents to be a substance use problem followed by marijuana (52%). In the Northern Territory, petrol sniffing was of similar concern to marijuana. The proportions varied according to place of residence.
HEALTH RISK FACTORS
The results from the NATSIS indicate that overweight and obesity are far more common problems among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than among the Australian community in general. A body mass index (BMI) was calculated for the 78% of adult men and 71% of adult women whose height and weight were measured. Of these people, 60% of men and 57% of women were overweight or obese. Substantially lower figures were recorded for all men (44%) and women (30%) in the 1989-90 National Health Survey.
Rates of smoking varied considerably across the country from 29% in the Alice Springs ATSIC region to 61% in the Jabiru ATSIC region (both in the Northern Territory). Overall, smoking was reported by 54% of men and 46% of women aged 13 years and over, and 10% of children aged 13-14 years reported that they smoked. Smoking was most commonly reported for people aged 25-44 years.
Australia wide, about half of males and about one third of females aged 13 and over said they had consumed alcohol within a week of being interviewed. However, a large proportion of Indigenous people in all States reported that they had never drunk alcohol. This was highest in the Northern Territory where 30% of males and 62% of females said they had never drunk alcohol, and 38% of males and 19% of females reported drinking within a week of interview.
Breastfeeding was most commonly reported in the Northern Territory where some 90% of children under the age of 13 had been or were currently being breastfed. In New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, however, over one third of children had not been breastfed.
DISABILITY AND HANDICAP
In the NATSIS, 1% of respondents aged 15-24 and 2.8% of those aged 25-44 reported a severe or profound handicap resulting from a disability or condition, increasing to 13% for those aged 55 and over.
Studies conducted for the period from 1992 to 1994 showed that Indigenous Australians in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory experienced higher rates of death than did non-Indigenous Australians (the identification of Indigenous status in the death records of the other States was not of sufficient quality to permit adequate analysis). There were about 3.5 times more deaths than expected for males and about four times more deaths than expected for females, based on comparisons with non-Indigenous rates. Diseases of the circulatory system, injury and poisoning, respiratory diseases, neoplasms and endocrine diseases accounted for about three-quarters of all deaths of Indigenous people.
Life expectancy in the three States studied was 14-18 years lower for Indigenous males and 16-20 years lower for Indigenous females, compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Over the ten-year period from 1985 to 1994, there was very little improvement in the mortality experience of Indigenous people in these three States. Overall death rates for Indigenous males declined by an estimated 1.5% per year, but this fall was not enough to reduce the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous males because the death rates for non-Indigenous males also fell by similar amounts. No decline in death rates for Indigenous females was evident.
Mortality rates did drop for some causes of death such as for infectious and parasitic disease, circulatory disease, and alcohol dependence syndrome in Indigenous males, and chronic rheumatic fever in Indigenous females. However, there were many times more deaths than expected for all these diseases and large gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people still remain. For diabetes mellitus, there was a striking deterioration in the mortality experience over the ten years, death rates increasing by almost 10% per year for Indigenous males and by over 5% for Indigenous females.
Source: Year Book Australia 1997
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