May 11, 2016

Lung disease a major burden for the remote, poor and elderly

The latest AIHW report on the impact and causes of illness and deaths in Australia[i] highlighted the significant burden lung disease places on regional, poorer and older Australians.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and lung cancer were listed in the top five diseases for the lowest three socioeconomic groups, with a clear trend of greater rates of burden in more remote areas[i].

Lung Foundation Australia CEO Heather Allan said the 20 specific diseases with the highest burden accounted for more than half (55% for males, 59% for females) of the burden[i].

“Within this, COPD and lung cancer, coronary heart disease, other musculoskeletal conditions, back pain and problems make up more than one-fifth (24% for males, 21% females) of the burden[i],” Mrs Allan said.

“Addressing these conditions would make a substantial contribution to reducing the disease burden in Australia,” she said.

“While the burden for respiratory disease in general has gone down slightly, the chronic nature of many respiratory diseases means this burden will continue to be felt for many years to come.”

Respiratory Physician Professor Christine McDonald said the report showed coronary heart disease, COPD, lung cancer and back pain and problems were the leading contributors to the national burden of disease, making up 18% of the total burden[i].

“While this report captures the state of play in 2011, almost five years ago, we know the impact will only increase as the Australia population ages,” Professor McDonald said.

“Older Australians made up only two per cent of the population in 2011, but accounted for 10% of the burden in 2011[i],” she said.

“We know there are things people can do to manage their disease and have a better quality of life.

“For people with a lung disease, having a management plan in place, avoiding exposure to smoke and dust, exercising appropriately, and making sure vaccinations are up-to-date are vital tools to help look after their lungs.”

The report also found that despite a reduction in the overall number of people smoking, tobacco use was responsible for 9% of the total burden of disease and injury in 2011 making it by far the most burdensome risk factor[i].

Tobacco use was responsible for 80% of lung cancer DALY (disability-adjusted life years). Similarly, it was responsible for 75% of the COPD DALY.


Lung Foundation Australia offers many programs and resources for people interested learning about their lung health. Check out more of our website or call 1800 654 301 for more information.


[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016. Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 3. BOD 4. Canberra: AIHW