Australian Burden of Disease report released: Illness and Death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People – Impacts and Causes


A report presenting the burden of disease experienced among Indigenous Australians has recently been released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. It provides the latest estimates of the total, non-fatal and fatal burden of disease and injuries for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

The Burden of Injuries among Indigenous Australians

Overall in 2011, injuries were responsible for 15% of all disability-adjusted life years (DALY) among Indigenous Australians; three times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians. This figure makes injury the second largest group of diseases causing burden among Aboriginal Australians (leading cause of fatal burden and sixth leading cause of non-fatal burden).

Males experienced greater burden due to injuries than females (68% and 32% respectively) and injury was responsible for the greatest burden among males and females aged 15 to 44 years.

Early death or fatalities contributed to 84% of the total burden of injury, with the remaining 16% of the burden due to non-fatal health loss.

Suicide and self-inflicted injuries accounted for 30% of the total injuries burden, followed by road traffic injuries of motor vehicle occupants (16.5%) and homicide and violence (12%).

The greatest risk factors for injuries were alcohol (19%) and drug (7%) use.

These findings highlight the importance of injury prevention initiatives targeting Indigenous Australians as they are experiencing disproportionately higher rates of fatal and non-fatal injuries than non-Indigenous Australians.

Total Burden of Disease among Indigenous Australians

Overall in 2011, Indigenous Australians experienced a burden of disease (including injury) 2.3 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians. This figure rose to 2.8 times the rate in Western Australia. Chronic diseases accounted for almost two-thirds of the total disease burden.

A large portion (37%) of the total burden of disease is preventable by reducing exposure to modifiable risk factors. The six risk factors causing the most burden in Indigenous Australians in 2011 were tobacco use (12%), alcohol use (8%), high body mass (8%), physical inactivity (6%), high blood pressure (5%) and high blood plasma glucose (5%).

Between the previous Burden of Disease report in 2003 and the latest data (2011) there has been some improvement in health for Indigenous Australians with the number of years of healthy life list per person decreasing by 5%.

The Importance of Burden of Disease Reporting

High-quality information on the health impacts and distribution of different diseases, injuries and risk factors is important in providing an evidence base to inform health policy, program and service delivery. This helps to guide expenditure on health that is cost effective, equitable and optimises health gains.

Visit the Knowledge Hub to learn how to undertake the public health approach to injury prevention initiatives.

View the Australian Burden of Disease Report for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People 2011 here.