The test results of the Australian Health Survey, which investigated a total of 25,000 families, were released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month and they give us a comprehensive picture of chronic disease across the nation.
WHAT THE LABORATORY TELLS US ABOUT THE HEALTH OF THE AUSTRALIAN POPULATION
The findings showed that many of us are not as fit as we may perhaps believe.
Three quarters of the adult population (over 18) have a problem with blood fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides (dyslipdaemia).
One in twenty adults has diabetes and one in five of them are not aware they are and as a result are not being treated.
One in ten adults has signs of chronic kidney disease or liver disease.
Significantly, the survey confirmed the strong association between high levels of cholesterol, diabetes and abnormal liver function and being overweight. It showed 62.8% of Australians aged over 18 years were overweight or obese. A further 35.5% were of normal weight and 1.7% were underweight.
The survey relied on many of the tests conventionally used in medical practice and included:
Cardiovascular disease biomarkers: Total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, Triglycerides, Apolipoprotein B
Diabetes biomarkers: Fasting plasma glucose, HbA1c
Kidney disease biomarkers: ACR (Albumin creatinine ratio), eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate)
Liver function biomarkers: ALT (alanine aminotransferase), GGT (gamma glutamyl transferase)
Anaemia biomarker: Haemoglobin
Tobacco use biomarker: Cotinine
RESULTS IN DETAIL
In 2011–12, 5.1% of people aged 18 years and over had diabetes.
This comprised 4.2% with known diabetes and 0.9% with diabetes newly diagnosed by the blood test results. This suggests that there was approximately one newly diagnosed case of diabetes for every four diagnosed cases.
Men were more likely than women to have diabetes (6.3% compared with 3.9%). This was the case for both known diabetes and newly diagnosed diabetes.
A further 3.1% of Australian adults were identified by their test results to be at high risk of diabetes.
Around one in three Australian adults (32.8%) had high levels of total cholesterol according to their blood test results, yet only 10.1% of this group self-reported high cholesterol as a current health condition.
One in three Australian adults (33.2%) had high levels of LDL 'bad' cholesterol and 23.1% had lower than normal levels of HDL 'good' cholesterol.
In 2011–12, 13.9% of people aged 18 years and over had high triglycerides.
Three in every four adults (76.4%) aged 45 years and over had dyslipidaemia. That is, they were taking cholesterol-lowering medication or had one or more of high total cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol or high triglyceride levels based on their test results.
Chronic kidney disease
In 2011–12, one in ten (10.0%) Australian adults had test results that showed signs of chronic kidney disease, with similar rates for men and women.
Around 4% of all adults were in Stage 1, 2.5% were in Stage 2 and less than 1% were in Stages 4–5.
A range of factors, including fatty liver disease, infections and excessive alcohol consumption can prevent the liver from functioning properly. The NHMS included two tests for liver function: gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT). These tests check the liver’s health and can detect liver damage.
In 2011–12, 11.0% of Australian adults had abnormal levels of ALT in their blood, with men more likely to have the condition than women (13.8% compared with 8.3%).
Around 2.1 million (or 12.4%) people aged 18 years and over were estimated to have abnormal levels of GGT.
Exposure to tobacco smoke
In 2011–12, the pattern for cotinine exposure was very similar to that for self-reported smoking for most age groups.
87.0% of current smokers aged 18 years and over had cotinine levels indicating exposure to tobacco smoke, compared with only 5.7% of those who were ex-smokers and 0.3% of those who had never smoked.
Anaemia is caused from a decrease in either the number of red blood cells in the body or the quantity of haemoglobin within red blood cells. When a person is anaemic, their heart has to work harder to ensure that muscles and organs get the oxygen they need.
In 2011–12, 4.5% of people aged 18 years and over had haemoglobin levels indicating a risk of anaemia, with women more likely to be at risk than men (6.4% compared with 2.5%).
ABOUT THE NATIONAL HEALTH SURVEY
The Australian Health Survey was carried out between 2011 and 2013. The core survey covered 25,000 household with at least one child and there were three sub components.
1) The National Health Survey (NHS); 15,500 households with at least one child.
2) The National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS); 9,500 household with at least one child.
3) The National Health Measures Survey (NHMS); over 11,000 voluntary participants over 5 years of age who had blood and urine tests.
Elsewhere on the web
Key findings from the National Health Measures Survey
Feature Article: Obesity and chronic disease