4914.0.55.001 - Newsletter: Age Matters, Jul 2006  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 31/07/2006   
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1. As part of the policy of making ABS publications freely available from its website, the ABS has recently issued the document Standards for Social, Labour and Demographic Variables (cat. no. 1200.0). This release is a window document that provides links to detailed ABS standards. These standards contain all the necessary information in relation to key variables used in social, labour and demographic statistics, e.g. definitions and explanations of concepts, as well as actual questions and classification structures. Of particular interest to readers of Age Matters are the documents on the definition and concepts that underpin the variable ‘age’.

The following extract illustrates the first principles nature and tone of the documents:

'Age' is one of the basic demographic variables used in population statistics. It is widely used in cross-classification with other variables such as sex, marital status, occupation, etc. It is most commonly used to differentiate populations in terms of the time elapsed (usually in complete years), generally from date of live birth to a point in time (e.g. date of a particular survey). Depending on the population, or topic of study, age may be measured in different “time units”.

The meaning and description of the concept are generally standard in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and other organisations. However, there is considerable and legitimate variation in output categories, directly linked to particular survey populations or topics.

In addition to providing various age definitions, the document explains various concepts and includes international guidelines (UN) on the demographic variable of age.

These standards are published and revised on an ongoing basis. The age standard was first published in 1992 and has been revised and upgraded several times since then. The question module on age for the 2006 Census will enable the capture of the actual ages of centenarians and the upper age limits in some labour force survey output have also been extended. The age standard will be revised to reflect the availability of this extra data. The underlying principles detailed in this reference publication remain current.

This release, therefore, should be a useful reference document, for anyone with an interest in ABS standards, and more particularly to those involved in the design and development of data capture that includes an age variable.

2. Australia’s Health 2006 is the tenth biennial health report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) which, according to AIHW’s Director Dr. Penny Allbon, concludes that overall the picture that emerges is of a high quality health system serving the bulk of the population well, but under pressure to deliver even more. The report explores many aspects of Australia’s complex health system, bringing statistics together in a way designed to inform policy makers, service providers, consumers and interested citizens alike.

Highlights from Chapter 2, Health of Australians, include:
  • Australians continue to live longer. Babies born today can expect to live for over 80 years on average. For females, life expectancy at birth in 2002-2004 was 83 years and for males it was 78 years.
  • Death rates for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, continue to decline.
  • Australia’s overall cancer death rates declined by about 14% between 1986 and 2004.
  • Despite improvements, cancer is now Australia’s leading cause of death among 45-64 year olds and causes more premature deaths and overall disease burden than cardiovascular disease.
  • The prevalence of self-reported diabetes more than doubled between 1989-90 and 2004-05. However, between 1997 and 2004, death rates from diabetes were stable for males and fell slightly for females.
  • Mental ill health is the leading cause of the non-fatal burden of disease and injury in Australia. It is estimated to have caused about one-eighth of the total Australian disease burden in 2003, exceeded only by cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Chapter 2 also explores the incidence of injury in some detail with some interesting revelations on fall related injuries in older ages e.g. during the acute care of a fractured femur, the in-patient death rate for those aged 50 years and younger was 2 per 1,000, increasing to 25 per 1,000 for those aged 50-79 years and 63 per 1,000 for those aged 80 years and over indicating that older people are less able to survive and recover from an injury than younger people.

Chapter 4 examines the Health of various population groups with a section dedicated to older people ie those aged 65 years and older.
With respect to hospital use, there were 2.38 million separations from hospitals for people aged 65 years and over, representing 35% of all separations. The proportion of the population aged 65 years and over is 13%.

This section examines Dementia in some detail and concludes that Dementia is the greatest single contributor to the burden of disease due to disability at older ages, as well as the greatest single contributor to the cost of care in residential aged care. It was estimated that in 2004 about 171,000 people aged 65 years or over had dementia.

Vision problems, arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions for older people are considered, specifically, the number and rate of the population with these diagnoses and conditions.

Chapter 7 looks at Health Services, discusses international comparisons and concludes:
  • According to OECD figures, Australia had higher numbers of general practitioners and nurses relative to population in 2003 than did New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
  • Health service use has increased by almost any measure: medical services up by 4.4% in just 1 year; hospital stays up almost 9% in the public sector over the last 5 years and 30% in the private sector; and pharmaceutical prescriptions up 41% over the latest decade.
  • Around 85% of Australians visit a doctor at least once a year, at an average of five GP visits per Australian. However, this includes 4% of people having more than 50 medical services in a year.

The publication also includes 56 detailed statistical tables, many with age breakdowns, from which the discussions, selected tables and diagrams presented in the preceding chapters were based.

Australia’s Health 2006 is designed to inform policy makers, service providers, consumers and interested citizens alike, and will be the most up-to-date compendium on Australia’s health until the 11th edition is released in 2008.