1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/09/2010   
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Top six leading avoidable causes of death(a) - 2008
Graph Image for Top six leading avoidable causes of death(a) - 2008

Footnote(s): (a) See Health datacube for more information. (b) Ischaemic heart disease. (c) Trachea and lung cancers. (d) Chronic lower respiratory diseases. (e) Standardised death rate per 100,000 population. The standard population is the 2001 Australian estimated resident population.


Public health experts classify causes of deaths as avoidable and unavoidable. A potentially avoidable death is one that, theoretically, could have been avoided given an understanding of causation, the adoption of available disease prevention initiatives and the use of available health care.

An example of a potentially avoidable death is one due to Bowel cancer. This may be avoided by:

  • primary prevention (diet and exercise),
  • secondary prevention (early detection),
  • tertiary prevention (effective surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy).
Conversely, an example of an unavoidable cause of death is Dementia, where no substantial gains are currently available through either primary, secondary or tertiary prevention with current medical management.

Potentially avoidable deaths decreased by almost 40% between 1987 and 2001 and this decline has contributed to a fall in the overall death rate (AIHW 2008). In 2007, there were 155.4 potentially avoidable deaths per 100,000 population.

In Australia, the top 10 leading causes of death accounted for 53% of all deaths registered in 2008 and six of these causes were potentially avoidable (Endnote 1).

The top two leading causes of death in 2008 were Ischaemic heart disease and Stroke, both of which are categorised as potentially avoidable.
  • Ischaemic heart disease accounted for 16% of all deaths registered in 2008; down from 19% in 2003. Over the same period, the Ischaemic heart disease death rate declined from 122.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 2003 to 96.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 2008 (ABS 2010a).
  • Men had a higher rate of death from Ischaemic heart disease than women in 2008 (126.7 and 72.7 deaths per 100,000 population respectively).
  • Stroke remained the second leading cause of death in 2008, accounting for 8.3% of all deaths, a decrease from five years ago (9.3% of all deaths in 2003) (ABS 2010a).
The fourth to seventh leading causes of death in 2008 (Trachea and lung cancers, Chronic lower respiratory diseases (including asthma), Diabetes and Bowel cancer) were all causes of potentially avoidable deaths.


  1. The selected causes of death presented here as 'avoidable' have been included on the basis that they are contained within the ICD-10 codes definition of 'Avoidable mortality' as presented in the Public Health Information Development Unit’s (PHIDU) report, Australian and New Zealand Atlas of Avoidable Mortality (2006), and in reports by NSW Health and the Victorian Department of Human Services. These causes do not contain any of the age or sex restrictions applied to Potentially avoidable deaths. See Health glossary for more information.


  • Health glossary
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