4829.0.55.001 - Health of Children, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/10/2004   
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This publication outlines the prevalence of common conditions in childhood. In addition, causes of death, reasons for hospital and general practitioner visits, types of mental disorders and level of disability are analysed.


Where estimates have been rounded, discrepancies may occur between sums of the component items and total.


Austrlian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) publications draw extensively on information provided freely by individuals, businesses, governments and other organisations. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated. Without it, the wide range of statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information recieved by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.


For further information about these and related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.



In March 2004, about 4 million Australians were children (aged 0-14), which represented 20% of the total population. In general, Australian children enjoy good health. Their life expectancy at birth is increasing, and perinatal, infant and childhood deaths are declining. This paper aims to provide information on the health and wellbeing of Australian children. Unless otherwise stated, children are defined in this paper as persons aged 0-14 years.


Long-term conditions

National Health Survey (NHS) 2001 results showed that the most commonly reported long-term conditions for children (aged 0-14 years) were allergic related diseases, such as asthma (13.4%), hayfever (7.1%), sinusitis (4.2%), and eczema (2.5%). Other common long-term conditions included otitis media (middle ear infection) (2.4%) and eyesight problems. In 2001, 3.5% of children aged 0-14 years were reported to have long-sightedness, and 3.4% were reported to have short-sightedness.

Self-reported long-term conditions, children aged 0-14 years - 2001
Graph: Self-reported long-term conditions, children aged 0-14 years—2001

Recent injury event

Respondents to the 2001 NHS were asked about events in the four weeks prior to interview that resulted in an injury for which they had sought medical treatment or taken some other action (see Glossary: Recent injury event). Results showed that 17.6% of children aged 0-14 years (19.5% of boys and 15.6% of girls) reported sustaining a recent injury in the four weeks before the interview. When the type of event leading to injury is considered, falls were the most common (ABS 2003a).

Recent illness

While children do experience long-term conditions, such as asthma, they are more likely to have short-term illnesses, such as infectious diseases. The 1995 ABS National Health Survey collected data on recent illness and findings indicated that the most commonly reported recent condition for children was the common cold (9.8%). Other recent conditions included dental problems (6.5%), cough and sore throat (4.9%), influenza (2.8%), otitis media (2.6%), and pyrexia (high temperature) (2.1%).

Self-reported recent illness, children aged 0-14 years - 1995
Graph: Self-reported recent illness, children aged 0-14 years—1995


Disability was defined in the 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), as any limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months and restricts everyday activities (ABS 2004). There are four levels of core activity restriction: profound, severe, moderate and mild (see Glossary). Children with a disability can also have a core activity restriction, if the disability limits their ability to some degree to perform tasks, such as self-care, mobility, communication, and schooling.

The 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers indicated that approximately 319,900 Australian children (aged 0-14 years) had a reported disability. Of children with a disability, 69% (around 221,700 children) had a core activity restriction.


The Bettering and Evaluation And Care of Health (BEACH) study, was a national study of general practice activity in Australia conducted by the GP Statistics and Classification Unit (a collaborating Unit of the University of Sydney and the AIHW). Results from the study showed that the most common problems managed by General Medical Practitioners (GPs) were acute upper respiratory tract infections, making up 15.5% of all problems (for children aged 0-14 years). This was followed by acute otitis media/myringitis (6.5%), and asthma (5.0%). Other viral disease (3.8%), tonsillitis (3.7%), acute bronchitis/bronchiolitis (3.2%), and contact/allergic dermatitis (2.9%) were also frequently seen by GPs (AIHW 2002).

Common problems managed by GPs, children aged 0-14 years - April to March 2001
Graph: Common problems managed by GPs, children aged 0-14 years - April to March 2001


Hospitalisation rates are lower for children compared to adults. While children aged 0-14 years made up around 20% of the total population, the total number of hospitalisations in 2002-03 for children aged 0-14 years was around 544,400 which represented 8.2% of all hospitalisations (AIHW 2004). The main reasons for hospitalisation included diseases of the respiratory system and injuries and poisoning.


The Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, conducted in 1998 by the then Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, studied 4,500 children and young people from metropolitan and rural areas across Australia. The prevalence of mental health problems was based on scores obtained from the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) completed by parents (see Glossary).

The results showed that 14% of children and young people (aged 4-17 years) had mental or behavioural health problems. Somatic complaints (chronic physical complaints without known cause or a medically verified basis) and delinquent behaviour were the most common specific problems reported by parents. Around 7% of children and adolescents scored in the clinical range on both these scales. Attention problems (6%) and aggressive behaviour (5%) were also identified.

Mental health problems in specific areas, children aged 4-12 years - 1998
Graph: mental health problems in specific areas, children aged 4-12 years—1998

Mental health problems in specific areas, children aged 13-17 years - 1998
Graph: mental health problems in specific areas, children aged 13-17 years—1998


Compared to adults, children have a lower death rate. In 2002, children (0-14 years) accounted for around 20% of the total Australian population, and child deaths represented 1.4% of all deaths registered in 2002 (ABS 2002).

Infant mortality

The Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) is defined as the number of deaths per 1,000 live births between birth and exactly one year of age. The survival of infants in their first year of life is commonly viewed as an indicator of the general health and wellbeing of a population. A low infant mortality rate is a major contributor to increased life expectancy.

Australia's IMR was 5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002. However, the IMR is higher among Indigenous infants (for further information on the Indigenous IMR, see ABS: Deaths Australia 2002, Cat. No. 3302.0).

Australia's IMR has declined by 95% in the last 100 years. In 1902, over 1 in 10 infants born did not survive to their first birthday (IMR of 107.1). In 2002, 1 in 200 infants born did not survive their first year of life (IMR of 5.0). The early decline in infant mortality has been linked to improvements in public sanitation and health education (ABS 2003a).

Infant Mortality Rate(a) - 1902-2002
Graph: infant mortality rate(a)—1902-2002

Despite a continued decline, infant mortality still counts for two thirds of all deaths of children aged 0-14 years. Of 1,882 registered child deaths in 2002, 1,264 were infants. Leading causes of death among infants included conditions originating in the perinatal period. For example, congenital malformations counted for 22% of infant deaths and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) counted for 9% of infant deaths (ABS 2002).

Death after infancy

For children aged 1-14 years, external causes of death (such as injuries and poisoning) and cancer are the leading causes of death for children.

In 2002, external causes of death, such as injuries or poisoning accounted for the deaths of 229 children aged 1-14 years, representing 37% of all deaths of this age group. Of deaths from external causes, 105 (46%) children died from transport accidents (ABS 2002).

Malignant neoplasms caused the deaths of 118 children aged 1-14 years, representing 19% of all deaths of children aged 1-14 years in 2002. Leading causes of cancer deaths for children were leukaemia and brain cancer (AIHW 2002), while leading causes of cancer deaths for adults were lung cancer (for men) and breast cancer (for women) (AIHW 2003).


ABS 2002. data available on request, Causes of Death

ABS 2003a. National Health Survey: Injuries ABS Cat. No. 4384.0

ABS 2003b. Deaths Australia 2002 ABS Cat. No. 3302.0

ABS 2004. Disability, Ageing and Carers 2003: Summary of Findings ABS Cat. No. 4430.0

AIHW 2002. Australia's Children 2002 AIHW Cat. No. PHE36.

AIHW 2003. Cancer in Australia 2000 AIHW Cat. No. CAN 18.

AIHW 2004. Interactive National Hospital Morbidity Data 2001-02 last viewed 25 October 2004 <http://www.aihw.gov.au/hospitals/datacubes/index.cfm >

Sawyer et al 2000. The mental health of young people in Australia, Mental Health and Special Programs Branch, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, Canberra.