Now Reading: Our researchers say health gap between disadvantaged and advantaged Australians is alarming

Our researchers say health gap between disadvantaged and advantaged Australians is alarming

New public health data released this week reveals that the number of Australians who are overweight and obese is the highest on record and that the rates of overweight and obesity, smoking, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, psychological distress and median age at death are highest amongst the disadvantaged.

Director of Public Health Information Development Unit (PHIDU) at Torrens University, Professor John Glover explains releasing the findings that the rates of chronic disease and health risks are estimates based on the best available data and indicate the magnitude of the differences in health status that exist in Australia.

“These public health figures disturbingly reveal, yet again, the poorer health outcomes for people in our community who are most disadvantaged,” Professor John Glover said.

PHIDU, based at Torrens University in Adelaide, promotes and manages the collection, dissemination and utilisation of national, state and local data for public health purposes.

Professor John Glover adds,

“We hope these latest findings provide even more impetus for health policymakers, agencies and providers across the country to address the health inequalities facing disadvantaged Australians.”

Watch Prof. John Glover’s appearance on ABC News 24 Tuesday 21 October here.

Read through these report summaries here:

The results released today by the PHIDU at Torrens University provide the latest update on variations in major chronic diseases and health risk factors for suburbs and towns (referred to as ‘population health areas’) across Australia. The figures,* based on data produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, also highlight differences between those living in urban centres and regional and remote parts of Australia and between populations grouped by socioeconomic status. The data allows comparisons of the health of those most well off and those who are disadvantaged.


The rates of obesity and overweight across the nation are the highest they’ve ever been, with 67.0% of Australian adults (those aged 18 years and over) classified as overweight or obese. Slightly more than one third (35.6%) of Australians are overweight and slightly less than one third are obese (31.3%). Just under one third (31.7%) are within the healthy weight range and 1.3% are underweight.

Disturbingly, there is a consistent trend towards a higher proportion of adults with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 and above (which is considered to be obese). Since 1995, the proportion of Australian adults who are overweight or obese has increased from 56.2% to 67.0%. This change is driven by the increase in the proportion of adults categorised as obese, which rose from 18.7% in 1995 to 31.3% in 2017–18. Over these years the proportion who were overweight declined slightly while those at a normal (or healthy) weight decreased by almost 30%. 

When analysed by socioeconomic disadvantage of area, the rate of obesity increases from 24.6% in the least disadvantaged areas to 38.5% in the most disadvantaged areas.

The Sydney area of Gordon – Killara/Pymble has the lowest obesity rate in the country at just 13.6% of adults, while Hobart’s Bridgewater – Gagebrook has the highest obesity rate in any capital city, at 57.0%. Regionally, Noosa Heads/Noosaville in Queensland has the lowest obesity rate (21.2% of adults) while Tamworth – West in New South Wales has the highest obesity rate of anywhere in the country (61.2% of adults).


Almost 24.3% of people in the most disadvantaged group are smokers, compared with 8.5% in the most advantaged group. While smoking rates have fallen across the whole population, they’ve fallen at a slower rate among the most disadvantaged.

Nationally, Hobart’s Bridgewater – Gagebrook is estimated to have the highest number of smokers (with 33.9% of the adult population), while Perth’s City Beach/Floreat rated as having the least, with 4.5%.


Disadvantaged Australians also have the highest rates of asthma (13.4%, compared with 10.0% among the most advantaged). Hobart’s Bridgewater – Gagebrook has the highest rate nationally (19.5%) and the population health area of Melbourne has the lowest (4.8%).


Australia’s most disadvantaged also have the highest rates of diabetes mellitus (7.2%, compared with 3.5% among the most advantaged). Sydney’s Mount Druitt – Whalan has the highest rate nationally (11.8%) and Sydney’s Avalon – Palm Beach/Newport – Bilgola, Perth’s Cottesloe – Claremont – Central, City Beach/Floreat and Cottesloe – Claremont – South, and regional Queensland’s Noosa Heads/Noosaville have the lowest (all 2.9%).

Heart, stroke and vascular disease

As with asthma and diabetes, disadvantaged Australians rated highly for cardiovascular disease at 5.5%, compared with 4.0% in the most advantaged group. Melbourne’s Cranbourne/Cranbourne West is estimated to have the highest rate nationally (7.1%) and Katherine in regional NT has the lowest rate (2.7%).

Psychological distress

Another key health indicator is psychological distress, with 20.7% of the most disadvantaged group suffering from high or very high psychological distress compared with just 8.1% among the most advantaged group. Melbourne’s Meadow Heights has the highest rate of psychological distress nationally (31.6%) and Sydney’s North Sydney – Mosman – West has the lowest (7.4%).

Median age at death

The median age at death is an indicator of premature mortality. It is the age at which exactly half the deaths registered in a given time period were deaths of people above that age and half were deaths below that age.

In the capital cities, the range in median age at death is from 62.0 years in Driver/ Gray/ Moulden/ Woodroffe in Darwin, to 89 years in Ashburton in Melbourne. In regional Australia, the lowest median age at death is 48 years in the APY Lands in north-west South Australia. Several localities shared the highest median age at death of 85 years; they are Ballina in New South Wales, Grovedale in Victoria, Clear Island Waters/ Merrimac in Queensland and Nuriootpa – Tanunda in South Australia.

*The estimates of chronic disease and health risks should be viewed as a tool that when used in conjunction with local area knowledge as well as the consideration of the modelled estimates reliability. They can provide useful information that can assist with decision making for small geographic areas.

Geographical maps and data sheets for each local area are available at:

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