From the Chief Health Officer
As Chief Health Officer for the ACT, my role is to monitor, protect and promote the health of our community.
Under Section 10 of the Public Health Act 1997, I am also required to report on specific aspects of the health status of the ACT population every 2 years.
Traditionally, these biennial reports, called Healthy Canberra, the ACT Chief Health Officer’s Report, were printed publications.
In 2016, the HealthStats ACT website was launched, providing accessible and up-to-date data on a range of health topics. This allows me to meet my legislated reporting requirements.
It is also important, however, to be able to focus specific attention on key public health issues which are impacting the health and wellbeing of our community at a particular point in time, including important population health topics and trends as they emerge. The Burden of Disease and the Healthy Weight reports are the first of these reports which have been released since the ending of the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration in the ACT. These reports seek to refocus our attention on two critical public health matters which require careful consideration of how we can reduce impacts across our community.
Together with HealthStats, this new online reporting will provide a comprehensive overview of the health status of the Canberra community, including challenges to our public health and opportunities for improvement. This information seeks to inform future policy, planning and research, developed both within Government and by external stakeholders. Feedback from individuals and organisations within public health policy, health services planning and delivery and in population health research indicates that this published information is a valuable resource which informs their own work.
A Snapshot of Canberra’s Population Health
Canberra’s population continues to grow in number and diversity.
- the number of residents grew to 454,000 people
- 9,544 people identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin, making up 2.0% of the ACT population
- 25.3% of ACT residents were born overseas
- the median age, or the age for which half the population are older and half are younger, was 35 years - this is an increase from a median age of 23 years in 1971
- 62,241 people were aged over 65 years, making up 13.6% of the ACT population.
In 2020, 5,139 ACT mothers gave birth to 5,204 babies. Birth rates have decreased slowly across Australia, including the ACT, over time. The ACT birth rate has dropped from 69 births per 1,000 women in 2010 to 63 births per 1,000 women in 2020.
In 2021, more than half of ACT adult respondents to the ACT General Health Survey (52.8%) reported their health as excellent or very good, while 46.9% of adult respondents reported their mental health as excellent or very good.
People in the ACT have the longest life expectancies at birth in Australia, while Australians have the third highest life expectancies in the world. In 2019–21, Canberrans had the highest life expectancy at birth for both females (86.3 years) and males (82.7 years) compared with other jurisdictions and this continues to increase over time.
Canberra’s children continue to be protected from a range of infectious diseases by having the highest immunisation rates in Australia in 2022:
- 95.6% of ACT children were fully immunised at 5 years of age compared to 94.37% nationally. Notably, children at 12 months and 5 years exceeded the aspirational national target of 95%.
- 96.1% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children were fully immunised at 5 years of age, compared to 96.2% nationally, also exceeding the 95% target.
Note: these statistics are current up to September 2022.
A Snapshot of Canberra's Population Health Challenges
ACT Burden of Disease
While people in the ACT have a high life expectancy, some of those years are spent living in less than full health due to the impacts of disease and injury. Loss of healthy life due to disease, injury or premature death is called the ‘burden of disease.’
Between 2011 and 2018, Canberrans lived more years in full health than the average Australian.
Overall, the leading causes of total burden of disease for people living in the ACT in 2018 were:
- mental health conditions and substance use disorders
- musculoskeletal conditions
- cardiovascular diseases.
This was consistent with the national experience but varied between males and females, and different age groups.
By preventing and reducing the rates of chronic disease in the ACT, we have an opportunity to increase the length of time people can live in full health.
Learn more about the ACT Burden of Disease.
Having a healthy weight increases a person’s chances of living in good health.
Overweight and obesity is a complex health condition which can negatively impact health and wellbeing. It often starts early in life and is influenced by factors both within and beyond a person’s control.
Overweight and obesity was the second leading cause of the disease burden in Australia in 2018. It increases the risk of some chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
In the ACT, trends in overweight (2011 to 2021) remain persistently high. Of particular concern is the data showing that obesity levels are increasing in adults and children of kindergarten age. The proportion of adults categorised as obese increased from 20.2% in 2011 to 26.7% in 2021. Similarly, the proportion of ACT mothers living with overweight or obesity in their first trimester of pregnancy has increased over the last ten years.
Encouragingly, there is a downward trend in overweight and obesity amongst our Year 6 students (between 2006 and 2018), and I look forward to the analysis of 2021-22 data to see if this downward trend is continuing.
The impacts of overweight and obesity on individuals, our families, community and health systems are such that it is critical that there continues to be a strong focus on how we can turn things around.
Learn more about Healthy Weight in the ACT.
Smoking and e-cigarettes
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in Australia.
It is a risk factor for cancer and diseases of the lungs, heart and blood vessels. Passive smoking affects child health.
Smoking rates in the ACT have remained relatively low in recent years. Still, they remain higher among some population groups, including:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- people living with socio-economic disadvantage
- people living with mental illness
- young mothers.
In 2021, 50.7% of respondents to the ACT General Health Survey aged 18 years and over reported they have never smoked.
In this survey, daily or occasional smoking was reported by 10.4% of respondents, smoking an average of 8.2 cigarettes daily. There was a small, but not statistically significant, difference between males and females for daily or occasional smokers in 2021 (males 12.3%, females 8.5%).
Increased use of e-cigarettes or ‘vapes’, especially among young people, is a concern as they contain toxic chemicals that have been linked with cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disorders.
There is also increasing evidence showing that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke tobacco later in life.
In 2021, 15.6% of ACT General Health Survey respondents aged 16 years and over reported that they had ever used e-cigarettes. Males (18.5%) were slightly more likely to report ever having used e-cigarettes than females (12.3%), however, the difference was not statistically significant.
Learn more about Smoking in the ACT.
For information and data on other public health topics impacting the ACT population’s health, please visit HealthStats ACT.
Over recent years, Canberrans have faced significant challenges to how we live, work and study. As a community, we have demonstrated that we are resilient and adaptable to change.
The ACT Government supports our community to live the healthiest life possible through a range of strategies and measures described in key policy documents, including the ACT Wellbeing Framework, the Preventive Health Plan 2020-2025, and its supporting First Three Year Action Plan (2020-2022). A Second Action Plan is in the process of being developed and will consider ways in which we can support reduction of concerning public health trends going forward, as well as learning from initiatives which are positively impacting the health of our community.
I trust that you will find the data and information on the Chief Health Officer report website useful and informative.
Dr Kerryn Coleman
ACT Chief Health Officer