4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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Contents >> Chapter 4: Health >> Population groups

Population groups

A variety of population groups have specific health needs over and above the general health needs of the population. These groups may be affected by one or more larger social issues such as poverty, family dysfunction, discrimination or geographical isolation.


The first few developmental years of life can play a critical role in establishing good health and the skills and attitudes that allow an individual to achieve optimum health throughout their life. Conversely, low birth weight, malnutrition, and repeated childhood infection can impair an individual's long term health. Investing in the health of children is seen by governments and communities as a practical way of improving the health of the population. Children's health needs centre around protecting them from harm experienced in unsafe environments, where the risk of poisoning, accidents, falls, drownings, burns or scalds is increased; or harm caused by exploitation, neglect, abuse or violence. Children's health can also be protected through immunising them against various communicable diseases.


International conventions and covenants stress the rights of young people to all manner of protection and facilities. However, young people aged from 15 to 25 years are in a state of transition from childhood to adulthood and from education into work, and may be faced with an uncertain future, with limited work opportunities and insecure personal relationships. There is concern that such life predicaments increase the likelihood that young people will be susceptible to health risks associated with their age group. These include a vulnerability to certain mental illnesses, harmful alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, self harm and suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, and injuries caused by car accidents. Information is needed on the factors that can prevent young people's vulnerability to these health problems, and promote healthy social functioning, good diet and nutrition, and physical activity for young people.


While women have a longer life expectancy than men, they generally have higher rates of illness during their lifetime. With government and community acknowledgment that better health outcomes for women need to be achieved, women's health has emerged as an area receiving considerable attention. Hence, data is often needed to inform the development and monitoring of health clinics that specialise in physical health areas specific to women (e.g. gynaecological and reproductive areas), of screening programs for the early detection of breast and cervical cancers, and of facilities that treat those symptoms of menopause and osteoporosis that are debilitating.


Focus on women's health has, by implication, brought men's health issues to the attention of the community. Men's lower life expectancy is of overall concern. However, there are a number of more specific risk factors and health determinants affecting men's health. Men visit doctors and other health professionals less frequently than women, and are therefore more susceptible to complications arising from treatable diseases due to postponement of medical advice and treatment. Men are also often working in professions where there are greater occupational health and safety concerns. Young men are a particular group of concern. This group have higher death rates than young women and are at greater risk of death or injury resulting from accidents or self harm.


Increases in the number and proportion of older people in the population, and the fact that the health needs of older people are qualitatively different than those of the population generally, present challenges in the areas of aged care policy and delivery. Although many older people are in good health and lead active and fulfilling lives, many others live with limited physical mobility or deteriorating mental alertness. A high proportion of older people need to take a cocktail of medications requiring careful monitoring. Whether older people have access to services that support their life choices is also a social concern. These services may be provided by non-government programs such as Meals on Wheels or by government health and community services designed to support older people in their own homes or in residential aged care units.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people generally have poorer health than other Australians, against a range of indicators. They have a shorter average life expectancy, higher mortality and morbidity rates, and experience higher rates of infant mortality than the rest of the Australian population. There is a widespread effort to improve understanding the complex range of socioeconomic, environmental and historical factors that contribute to these health outcomes. Some of these factors include low socioeconomic status (e.g. in the areas of income, education and employment), poor living conditions, poor access to health and safety services and fresh food, and harmful alcohol consumption. The social and cultural functioning of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including their dietary and other lifestyle patterns, was significantly disrupted by colonisation, and there is an expressed need to examine how the repercussions of colonisation continue to affect the health of Indigenous people. There are also substantial issues relating to collecting accurate information about the health of Indigenous people and using this effectively in assisting Indigenous people.


Since the early 1990s, various initiatives have been taken by both Federal and State governments to address differences between the health outcomes of people living in rural and remote areas and those of people living in other parts of the country. Although these differences can be partly attributed to the relatively high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in rural and remote areas, there are a range of health needs specific to rural and remote communities that are the same for all residents. These are related predominantly to social isolation, distance and access, e.g. to diagnostic, treatment and support services, and health specialists. Farming accidents and other accidents associated with rural life are also of concern.

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