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What is a Healthy Australia?
Eugene McGarrell / March 5, 2020
The health of Australians has continuously improved over the years. Discoveries including sanitation, vaccinations and antibiotics alongside better nutrition, wealth and improved working conditions have let to improved quality of life and longevity for many.
The data from the Knoema World Data Atlas backs this up.
In 2018, child mortality rate for Australia was 3.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. Child mortality rate of Australia fell gradually from 21.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1969 to 3.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018. 1
In 2017, life expectancy for Australia was 82.5 years. Life expectancy of Australia increased from 70.9 years in 1968 to 82.5 years in 2017 growing at an average annual rate of 0.31%. 2
Even as our quality of life and wellbeing improves so does paradoxically the cost of health care.
In 2016, health expenditure as a share of GDP for Australia was 9.3 %. Health expenditure as a share of GDP of Australia increased from 7.9 % in 2002 to 9.3 % in 2016 growing at an average annual rate of 1.15%. 3
The “health” of Australians is predicated on the health of our environment, the health of our social system and the health of our economy. Today we have never had it so good. And if we are not careful, we may not have it as good again.
We cannot rest on our laurels. Even today we have children under the age of 5 drinking several litres of coke a day. Most children in Early Care and Education settings are not receiving nutritious meals. We are poisoning our children and we wonder why we have an ever-increasing prevalence of obesity and chronic disease in later life.
In 2016, female obesity prevalence for Australia was 28.4 %. Female obesity prevalence of Australia increased from 18.9 % in 1997 to 28.4 % in 2016 growing at an average annual rate of 2.17%. 4
In 2016, male obesity prevalence for Australia was 29.6 %. Male obesity prevalence of Australia increased from 18.2 % in 1997 to 29.6 % in 2016 growing at an average annual rate of 2.59%. 5
The health indicators of our people in rural and remote Aboriginal communities is well know and often ignored. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data released this year found about 3,000 Indigenous Australians die prematurely each year, resulting in almost 100,000 years of life lost.
Systemic racism allows us to sustain third world living conditions in a place we call “the lucky country”. There are no other explanations that hold water.
The Spanish Flu in 1918 infected a one third of the world population and killed an estimated 50 million people including 675,000 Australians. The science to date has kept on top of potential pandemics but even today we are greeted with the news that the Coronavirus has spread from human to human in China. We are reminded that science may not always get ahead of the pandemics, and history tells us how swift and deadly they can be.
The metaphor of the frog sitting in a pot of water that slowly warms comes to mind. Not noticing the increase in temperature, the frog stays put until he boils to death. This is a metaphor and frogs aren’t that stupid, but are we?
The reduced take up of vaccines, the growing resistance to anti-biotics and the environmental impact of climate change effecting the abundance to water, the risk to food security and devastation to homes and communities means that we are making ourselves vulnerable to acute and chronic health dangers.
Healthy Australia is committed to a future that sustains healthy lives for each and everyone on this continent.
For some diseases we have no cure, but we are ever hopeful that science will come to the rescue. But the war for a health Australia must be waged on several fronts.
Most of us “grown-ups” are already stuck in our ways. Our behaviours are now habitual which for many of us will cause us to be overweight, vulnerable to chronic disease and at risk to disability in older age. We know what we must do to be healthy but information in isolation does not lead to behavioural change.
We make promises to ourselves every New Year’s Eve, but most of us drop our new health regime’s before January 7. Gymnasiums know this only too well. They commit us to 12-month membership payments knowing we will stop using their facilities within weeks.
And then there is our mental health. We have become socially fragmented and isolated. Loneliness is known to be the cause of rising rates of anxiety, depression and addiction because we crave to belong. We are tribal but our tribes are becoming disconnected.
The statistics provided by Lifeline on suicide provide a disconcerting picture:
- The overall suicide rate in 2015 was 12.6 per 100,000 in Australia. This is the highest rate in 10-plus years
- The most recent Australian data (ABS, Causes of Death, 2015) reports deaths due to suicide in 2015 at 3,027
- This equates to more than eight deaths by suicide in Australia each day
- Deaths by suicide in Australia occur among males at a rate three times greater than that for females. However, during the past decade, there has been an increase in suicide deaths by females
- The suicide rate amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is more than double the national rate. In 2015, suicide accounted for 5.2% of all Indigenous deaths compared to 1.8% for non-Indigenous people
We have chosen our path. We have chosen an economic system that directly creates climate change. We have chosen fast foods, alcohol and drugs to distract us from how we feel. We have chosen a system that requires both parents to go to work to pay for a house that is more expensive because both parents are earning an income.
Housing in not affordable to our young people because of our obsession to raise house prices. Our obsession with a growing economy is fuelled by the undelivered neo-liberal promise of Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s. We have bought the story of the Australian dream, yet we walk passed our homeless people every day without a thought.
The gap between the rich and poor has widened. According to an article in the Guardian in 2019:
The ABS's 2017-18 survey of household income and wealth, released on July 12, showed the wealthiest 20 per cent of Australian households received around 40 per cent of all household income and held more than 60 per cent of all household wealth.
This is the Australia we created for ourselves. For the privileged (AKA white, male middle aged, straight, christian) life is good. For other demographics life has not been so good. But guess which demographic is in power in governments, in large corporations and in financial companies. With some exceptions the demographic is privileged and is unlikely to want to disrupt the status quo.
We have an opportunity to create a new Australia for our young people. We can plant the seed of a tree knowing that we won’t enjoy its shade but generations to come will. For that tree to grow to its potential we need the soil to be nutritious, we need the environment to provide a good share of rain and sun and we need people to take care of any potential disease and protect it from others that want to cut down to build a road.
And so, for the future of the health of Australia. We have an opportunity to create healthy Australians. We have the opportunity make sure they eat nutritious meals and avoid the addiction of sugar and junk food. We can expose our children to the wonders of play outdoors, without adult supervision so they can learn how to manage bullying, relationships and dynamics with their peers.
We can build a circular economy that sustains the environment and provides affordable housing for all. We can bring back the village to sustain community, tribe and connection. We can create neighbourhood economies to reduce time parents spend away from home and reduce time and energy commuting.
We can create communities that protect our children from harm, neglect and abuse. We can revisit the old ways of community responsibility so that children grow strong and resilient.
We can create forms of government that support individual and community sovereignty. Government that are focused on our wellbeing and not focused on growing economies to boost the public purse even when those economies (such as coal, oil, tobacco, fast food, sugars, alcohol, gambling etc) are actually doing the people of Australia harm.
Healthy Australia understands that we are faced with a stark choice. Sustain the status quo and allow our children to experience an ailing Australia or make significant changes to the system for our children to experience a Healthy Australia.
It is no secret that technology (machine learning, quantum computing and automation) will kill many jobs within 10 years, that climate change if not managed before 2030 will destroy many natural resources we rely on today and that the economy is going to collapse within a year or 10 years. This change to humanity is happening fast and like the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution we must adapt.
So, how will Healthy Australia contribute to creating a healthy future for our children:
- Through the design and delivery of smart health and social programs for children including programs that support healthy eating and keep children safe from neglect and harm.
- By holding governments investing in harm to account and influencing evidence-based health, social, economic and environmental policy and program investment.
- By working in partnership will every sector including science, technology, business, community, universities and government agencies to create end to end smart programs
- By advocating without fear of retribution or consequences for the health and protection of our children.
- By shining a light on corruption that adversely effects the health of the nation.
Healthy Australia is a small cog in a large machine. We understand that we can influence positive change through integrity and partnership with agencies and people acting in integrity. We won’t see the fruits of our labour but we hope generations to come will enjoy the shade of the tree.
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