4364.0.55.002 - Australian Health Survey: Health Service Usage and Health Related Actions, 2011-12  
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The definitions used in this survey are not necessarily identical to those used for similar items in other collections. Additional information about the items is contained in the Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13 (cat. no. 4363.0.55.001).


A respondent aged 18 years or over.

Age standardisation

Age standardisation is a way of allowing comparisons between two or more populations with different age structures, in order to remove age as a factor when examining relationships between variables. For example, the age structure of the population of Australia is changing over time. As the prevalence of a particular health condition (for example, arthritis) may be related to age, any increase in the proportion of people with that health condition over time may be due to real increases in prevalence or to changes in the age structure of the population over time or to both. Age standardising removes the effect of age in assessing change over time or between different populations.

Proportions in tables and commentary in this publication are not age-standardised.

Alcohol consumption risk level

Alcohol consumption risk levels in this publication have been assessed using the 2001 and 2009 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for the consumption of alcohol.

Risk in the longer term (2001 guidelines) and lifetime risk (2009 guidelines) was assessed using average daily consumption of alcohol for persons aged 15 years and over, derived from the type, brand, number and serving sizes of beverages consumed on the three most recent days of the week prior to interview, in conjunction with the total number of days alcohol was consumed in the week prior to interview.

Risk in the short term (2001 guidelines) and single occasion risk (2009 guidelines) was assessed using questions on the number of times in the last 12 months a person's consumption exceeded specified levels.


Level of risk

Low risk
High risk

Minimising risk in the longer term
up to 4 standard drinks
5–6 standard drinks
7 or more standard drinks
up to 2 standard drinks
3–4 standard drinks
5 or more standard drinks
Minimising risk in the short term
up to 6 standard drinks
7–10 standard drinks(b)
11 or more standard drinks(b)
up to 4 standard drinks
5–6 standard drinks(b)
7 or more standard drinks(b)

(a) One standard drink contains 12.5 mLs of alcohol.
(b) On at least one occasion in the last 12 months.


Level of risk

Does not exceed guideline
Exceeds guideline

Guideline 1 - Lifetime risk
up to and including 2 standard drinks
more than 2 standard drinks
Guideline 2 - Single occasion risk
up to and including 4 standard drinks
more than 4 standard drinks(c)

(a) One standard drink contains 12.5 mLs of alcohol.
(b) Guidelines relate to both males and females.
(c) On at least one occasion in the last 12 months.

Alcohol consumption status information was also collected for persons who did not consume any alcohol in the 7 days prior to interview, categorised as:
  • Last consumed more than one week to less than 12 months ago;
  • Last consumed 12 months or more ago; and
  • Never consumed.

For more detailed information on the 2001 NHMRC guidelines, see the Australian Alcohol Guidelines: Health Risks and Benefits and for the 2009 guidelines, see the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol and Frequently Asked Questions.

For a detailed explanation of the method used to measure alcohol consumption in ABS health surveys, see Alcohol Consumption in Australia: A Snapshot, 2007-08 (cat. no. 4832.0.55.001).

Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Classification System

The Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical (ATC) Classification System is a pharmaceutical coding system which divides drugs into different groups according to the organ or system on which they act and/or their therapeutic and chemical characteristic.

Ancillary cover

Any cover provided by private health insurance organisations for health-related services other than medical (e.g. GP or specialist visits) 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.

Australian Standard Classification of Education

The Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED) is a national standard classification which includes all sectors of the Australian education system: that is, schools, vocational education and training, and higher education. ASCED comprises two classifications: Level of Education and Field of Education.

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. To be current, symptoms of asthma or treatment for asthma must have occurred in the last 12 months.

Back pain/problems, disc disorder

Includes back pain or other back problems, such as sprains, strains or joint pain, as well as disc disorders, such as slipped discs or disc degeneration. Excludes arthritis and osteoporosis (as they are reported in their own separate classification), and also excludes sciatica, curvature of the spine and soft tissue disorders.

Blood pressure

See High blood pressure, Diastolic blood pressure and Systolic blood pressure.

Bodily pain

Indication of the severity of any bodily pain that the respondent had experienced (from any and all causes) during the last 4 weeks. This is a self-assessment from the SF36 international instrument. Data was collected from respondents aged 18 years and over.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify underweight, normal weight, overweight and obesity. It is calculated from height and weight information, using the formula weight (kg) divided by the square of height (m). To produce a measure of the prevalence of underweight, normal weight, overweight or obesity in adults, BMI values are grouped according to the table below which allows categories to be reported against both the World Health Organization (WHO) and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines.



UnderweightLess than 18.50
Normal range18.50 —19.99
20.00 — 24.99
Overweight25.00 — 29.99
Obese30.00 or more

Separate BMI classifications were produced for children. BMI scores were created in the same manner described above but also took into account the age and sex of the child. There are different cutoffs for BMI categories (underweight/normal combined, overweight or obese) for male and female children. These categories differ to the categories used in the adult BMI classification and follow the scale provided in Cole TJ, Bellizzi MC, Flegal KM and Dietz WH, Establishing a standard definition for child overweight and obesity worldwide: international survey, BMJ 2000; 320. For a detailed list of the cutoffs used to calculate BMI for children see the Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13 (cat. no. 4363.0.55.001).


A person aged 0-17 years.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious long-term lung disease, is the occurrence of chronic bronchitis or emphysema, a pair of commonly co-existing diseases of the lungs in which airways become narrowed. It mainly affects older people and is often difficult to distinguish from asthma.


See long-term medical condition.

Current daily smoker

A current daily smoker is a respondent who reported at the time of interview that they regularly smoked one or more cigarettes, cigars or pipes per day. See also Smoker status.

Day clinic

A facility where a medical procedure is performed and patients are discharged on the same day.

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.


Includes partial or total loss of hearing.

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.

Diastolic blood pressure

Measures the pressure in the arteries as the heart relaxes before the next beat. It is the lower number of the blood pressure reading.

Dietary guidelines

As specified by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for fruit and vegetable consumption. See Usual intake of fruit and Usual intake of vegetables.

Diseases of the circulatory system

Includes all reported diseases of the circulatory system that were current, long-term and diagnosed, see Appendix 2 of the Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13 (cat. no. 4363.0.55.001).

Disability status

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

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, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment with any of the core activities (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 years 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.

Exercise level

Based on frequency, intensity (that is, walking, moderate exercise or vigorous exercise) and duration of exercise (for fitness, recreation or sport) in the one week prior to interview. From these, an exercise score was derived using factors to represent the intensity of the exercise.

For more information see the Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13 (cat. no. 4363.0.55.001).

Fat content of milk

Categorised as:
  • Whole/full cream (3% fat or more);
  • Reduced fat (around 1 or 2%);
  • Skim (less than 1%);
  • Does not drink milk; and
  • Does not know fat content.

Family stressors

Any of the following events or circumstances which the person considers have been a problem for themselves or someone close to them in the last 12 months:
  • Serious illness;
  • Serious accident;
  • Death of a family member or close friend;
  • Mental illness;
  • Serious disability;
  • Divorce or separation;
  • Not able to get a job;
  • Alcohol or drug related problems;
  • Witness to violence;
  • Abuse or violent crime;
  • Trouble with the police;
  • Gambling problem; or
  • Other.

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.

Hayfever and allergic rhinitis

An allergic inflammation of the nasal airways occurring when an allergen, such as pollen or dust, is inhaled by an individual with a sensitised immune system. When caused specifically by grass pollens it is known as 'hayfever'.

HbA1c test

The HbA1c test provides an indication of the presence and management of diabetes. Also referred to as glycated haemoglobin, it measures the amount of glucose in the blood that binds to the haemoglobin present in red blood cells. If glucose amounts are below 7% and stable then tests should be performed ever 6 months; if they are higher than that then tests should be performed every 3 months.

Heart disease (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.

Health risk factors

Specific lifestyle and related factors impacting on health, including:
  • Tobacco smoking;
  • Alcohol consumption;
  • Exercise;
  • Body Mass Index;
  • Dietary behaviour; and
  • Blood pressure.

High blood pressure

A measured blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg (millimetres of mercury) or higher. Data on high blood pressure in this publication refer to measured blood pressure only, and do not take into account whether people who might otherwise have high blood pressure are managing their condition through the use of blood pressure medications.

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 patient's 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. In this survey, only households with at least one adult (aged 18 years and over) were included.

Household structure

Refers to the composition of the household to which the respondent belonged. In this publication households are categorised as persons living alone, couple only, couple with child(ren), and other households.

High Sugar Levels

High sugar levels in blood or urine.

Hypertensive disease

Also known as hypertension or high blood pressure, hypertensive disease is a chronic medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is elevated, requiring the heart to work harder than normal to circulate blood through the blood vessels. Hypertension is a major risk factor for strokes and myocardial infarction (heart attacks) as well as several other 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.

Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage

This is one of four Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) compiled by ABS following each Census of Population and Housing. The indexes are compiled from various characteristics of persons resident in particular areas: the Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage summarises attributes such as low income, low educational attainment, high unemployment and jobs in relatively unskilled occupations. A lower Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage quintile (e.g. the first quintile) indicates relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. A higher Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (e.g. the fifth quintile) indicates a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in general. For further information about SEIFA see the Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13 (cat. no. 4363.0.55.001).


A person who is admitted to the hospital and stays overnight or for an indeterminate time in the course of treatment, examination or observation.

Ischaemic heart disease

A disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle.

Kidney disease

A subset of symptoms including:
  • problems or complaints about kidneys;
  • renal pain; and,
  • renal colic (kidney stones).

Long sightedness

Long sightedness (or hyperopia/hypermetropia) is a common condition of the eye where the light that comes into the eye focuses behind the retina, causing the image of a close object to be out of focus, but that of a distant object to be in focus. Glasses, contact lenses and laser techniques are used to correct long sightedness.

Long-term medical condition (or Long-term health 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, including asthma, arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, sight problems, rheumatic heart disease, heart attack, angina, heart failure and stroke. Rheumatic heart disease, heart attack, angina, heart failure and stroke were also assumed to be current.

Mental and behavioural conditions

Includes anxiety related problems such as phobias, mood (affective) problems such as depression, substance abuse such as alcohol and drug problems, as well as other psychological, emotional and behavioural conditions.

Moderate exercise

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

National Health Measures Survey (NHMS)

The National Health Measures Survey, also referred to as the biomedical component of the AHS, focused on early lifestyle-related diseases through blood and urine testing. Information was collected on:
  • Type 2 diabetes:
    • fasting plasma glucose;
    • HbA1c;
  • cardiovascular disease:
    • blood lipids;
    • total cholesterol;
    • high-density lipoproteins;
    • low-density lipoproteins;
    • triglycerides;
  • chronic kidney disease:
    • urinary albumin creatinine ratio;
    • estimated glomerular filtration rate;
  • liver damage:
    • alanine aminotransferase;
    • gamma glytamyltranaminase;
  • risk factors:
    • serum cotinine;
  • nutrition status:
    • sodium;
    • potassium;
    • vitamin D;
    • folate;
    • B12;
    • iodine; and
    • iron.

National Health Survey (NHS)

The National Health Survey focused on collecting information on:
  • medical conditions that had lasted, or were expected to last for six months or more;
  • consultations with health professionals;
  • actions taken in regard to improving or maintaining health;
  • female life stages;
  • blood pressure;
  • diet;
  • exercise;
  • physical measurements (height, weight and waist circumference);
  • use of medication and supplements;
  • use of tobacco and alcohol;
  • breastfeeding;
  • disability status;
  • social and emotional well-being; and
  • family, personal and financial stress.


A neoplasm is a new growth of abnormal tissue (a tumour). Tumours can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancer). 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; or
  • have never worked and never intend to work.


A condition that thins and weakens bone mineral density, generally caused by loss of calcium, which leads to increased risk of fracture. Data was collected from persons aged 15 years and over plus younger respondents who reported having gout, rheumatism or arthritis.

Other health professionals

  • Aboriginal Health Worker;
  • Accredited counsellor;
  • Acupuncturist;
  • Audiologist/audiometrist;
  • Chemist (advice only);
  • Chiropodist/podiatrist;
  • Chiropractor;
  • Diabetes educator;
  • Dietitian/nutritionist;
  • Herbalist;
  • Hypnotherapist;
  • Naturopath;
  • Nurse;
  • Occupational therapist;
  • Optician/optometrist;
  • Osteopath;
  • Physiotherapist/hydrotherapist;
  • Psychologist;
  • Social worker/welfare officer; and
  • Speech therapist/pathologist.


A patient who is hospitalised for less than 24 hours but who visits a hospital, clinic or associated facility for diagnosis or treatment.

Private health insurance

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

Psychological distress

Derived from the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10). This is a scale of non-specific psychological distress based on 10 questions about negative emotional states in the past 30 days. The K10 is scored from 10 to 50, with higher scores indicating a higher level of distress; low scores indicate a low level of distress. In this publication, scores are grouped as follows:
  • Low levels of distress (10-15);
  • Moderate levels of distress (16-21);
  • High levels of distress (22-29); and
  • Very high levels of distress (30-50).

Data was collected from respondents aged 18 years and over.

Self-assessed health status

A person's general assessment of their own health against a five point scale from excellent through to poor. Data was collected from respondents aged 15 years and over.

Short sightedness

Short sightedness (or myopia) is a common condition of the eye where the light that comes into the eye does not directly focus on the retina but in front of it, causing the image of a distant object to be out of focus, but that of a close object to be in focus. Glasses, contact lenses and laser techniques are used to correct short sightedness.

Smoker status

The extent to which a respondent was smoking at the time of interview, and refers to regular smoking of tobacco, including manufactured (packet) cigarettes, roll-your-own cigarettes, cigars and pipes, but excludes 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 frequently than daily;
  • Ex-smoker - a respondent who reported that 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 had smoked pipes, cigars, etc less than 20 times.

Data was collected from respondents aged 15 years and over.

Standard drink

Refers to a standard drink of alcohol, defined as containing 12.5 mLs of alcohol.

Systolic blood pressure

Measures the pressure in the arteries as the heart pumps blood during each beat. It is the higher number of the blood pressure reading.

Type of conditions

All reported long-term medical conditions were coded to a classification developed by the ABS for use in the 2001 National Health Survey, which is based on the tenth revision of the International Classification of Diseases and Health Related Problems (ICD-10). Further information can be found in the Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13 (cat. no. 4363.0.55.001).

Type of medication

Obtained for medication reported as used in the two weeks prior to interview for any medical condition. 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 well-being

Refers to the type of medication reported as used for mental health or well-being 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.

Type of milk

Main type of milk usually consumed, including cow's milk, soy milk, evaporated and condensed milk, and other unspecified types of milk.


Persons aged 15 years and over who were not employed and actively looking for work in the four weeks prior to the survey, and were 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 and beverages) 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) has recommended a minimum of two serves of fruit per day for adults and three serves of fruit for children aged 12-17 years and one serve for children aged 5-11 years.

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) has recommended a minimum of five serves of vegetables per day for adults and four serves of vegetables for children aged 12-17 years, three serves for 8-11 years and two serves for children aged 5-7 years.

Vigorous exercise

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

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:



Not at riskWaist circumference less than 94 cmWaist circumference less than 80 cm
Increased riskWaist circumference more than or equal to 94 cmWaist circumference more than or equal to 80 cm
Greatly increased riskWaist circumference more than or equal to 102 cmWaist circumference more than or equal to 88 cm