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Five lifestyle changes every Queenslander should consider in 2017

Friday 6 January 2017

One hand holding a donut and the other holding an apple
Small decisions you make every day can play a significant role in your long-term health.

Here’s some good news for Queenslanders: we’re smoking less, getting more active, decreasing our death rate from chronic disease, and we’re 23% less likely to die a premature death compared to a decade ago. Queenslanders are living longer – gaining about two years on our compatriots from 2006 – with 74% of women and 61% of men living into their eighties.

The biggest killer in the state is cancer (30% of total deaths), which overtakes cardiovascular disease (29% of total deaths) as the leading cause of death in the state for the first time. Lagging behind are our next biggest killers - respiratory conditions (8%) and injuries (7%) – and together these four account for three-quarters of the deaths in the state.

This data comes from the sixth edition of the Chief Health Officer's biennial report, the Health of Queenslanders, released in November of 2016. Every two years this report uses data from Queensland Health and federal agencies to provide a snapshot of health trends in the state.

The report is a handy reference for health professionals and organisations, but it also gives us a picture of what Queenslanders are doing right - and not so right - when it comes to their health.

There's a lot of good news in the 2016 report when it comes to living longer, but there are still places where we can do better - particularly when it comes to long-term lifestyle choices.

Currently 44% of deaths in Australia and 31% of the burden of disease and injury is associated with behavioural, metabolic and environmental risk factors. These risk factors are attached to individual lifestyle choices that all of us make every day, for better and for worse.

While the report looks at the population level consequence of those choices, it also provides a useful glimpse into the top five causes of death that could be delayed or prevented by making healthier decisions. If you'd like to invest in your long-term health and buck the statistical trends in Queensland, here are the top five lifestyle changes you need to consider in the coming year.

Quit Smoking

About 450,000 Queensland adults were daily smokers in 2016 - approximately 250,000 males and 200,000 females. About 110,000 adults were current e-cigarette users in 2015–16, and 200,000 children were living in a household with a current smoker. The great news from the report is that the rate of daily smoking is in decline among Queenslanders. That rate of daily smokers has halved since 1997 and decreased by 3.9% per year between 2009 and 2016.

But it's important to keep this in context - smoking is still a leading cause of preventable death and disease in Queensland, with two-thirds of deaths in current smokers able to be directly attributed to the habit. We may be smoking less, but there is still a ways to go before we can say Queensland is smoke-free.

Want some help to quit smoking?

Eat Healthier

Smoking may be the number one risk factor in Queensland likely to result in death, but the overall state of our diet is number two. Queenslanders have access to a wide range of mostly Australian grown produce and a rich diversity of healthy and safe food from which to choose for their enjoyment, sustenance and good health.

Despite this abundance, many of us are not consuming the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables necessary for good health. An estimated 1.6 million adults and 0.25 million children are not eating the recommended level of fruit every day, and 3.5 million adults and 0.79 million children are not reaching their daily serves of vegetables.

In short, too few Queenslanders eat a healthy diet. For many Queenslanders, one-third of their energy intake is derived from food that provides little nutritional benefit and is costing the average consumer over half (58%) their food spending.

Diet is one of the most personal choices we make about our lifestyle, but it's increasingly becoming a source of concern. Unhealthy eating contributes to chronic illnesses such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers and tooth decay. Queenslanders are currently over-consuming energy-dense discretionary food and drinks, and under-consuming fruits, vegetables, and wholegrain food.

With smoking rates continuing to decline, a commitment to learning more about eating healthier and making different choices about our food is the most beneficial, widespread step Queenslanders could take right now.

Want some help improving your diet?

Get Your Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Checked

High blood pressure and cholesterol are influential contributors to health loss in Queensland. When excluding those who were taking drugs and treating their conditions, 23% of Queensland adults had high blood pressure, and 31% of Queensland adults had high cholesterol. Blood pressure comes in at number 3 on the list of risk factors likely to lead to death.

Queensland adults need to be aware of their blood pressure and cholesterol levels to ensure appropriate action is taken early, and it's as important for young to middle-aged adults as it is for older Queenslanders. In a 2011–12 national study it was discovered that 97% of 18–24 year olds who were measured with high blood pressure did not know they had it, and even of those aged 75 years and older 51% were unaware there was a problem.

Learn more about blood pressure problems

Reduce Your Body Mass and Incorporate More Movement into Your day

Queensland's obesity rates may be shrinking, but 30% of adults are still obese and two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. Another concern is the report that one in four children are overweight, which means that far too many Queensland children are being set up for a life of obesity.

A high body mass contributes to the chances of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, chronic kidney disease, and more, making it the third largest burden on health systems overall after high blood pressure and smoking. Queenslanders are very aware of the problem of obesity, and nearly two-thirds of adults have taken action to either lose weight or prevent weight gain in the last twelve months.

What can get missed is the severity of the problem - when asked how much they thought they needed to lose, the average adult said about 11kg. In fact, all those who were overweight or obese would need to lose 15kg on average.

It may sound like we're about to start talking exercise, but really an exercise routine is just a means of combating the real problem - Queenslanders are living increasingly sedentary lives, with minimal physical activity required of them by work or daily tasks.

Once again, Queensland is trending in the right direction, with 61% of Queensland adults getting the 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, as recommended by the national physical activity guidelines. However, we're still one of the least active states in Australia, with nearly 1.3 million Queenslanders being insufficiently active and 2.7 million Queenslanders forgoing strength or toning activities even if they were exercising.

From the perspective of long-term health, there are many gains to be achieved with even small increases in activity built into your daily routine. If you're on the sedentary end of the population, start looking for opportunities to fit more movement into your day and build upon it over time.

Want some help fitting more movement into your day?

Re-Think Your Drinking

National guidelines have identified disease risk arising from lifetime drinking patterns, and risk associated with excess alcohol consumption on a single occasion that can lead to more immediate outcomes such as road traffic injuries, violence, falls and drowning. While many people consume alcohol at levels that pose little or no risk to their health, about 1 in 5 Queensland adults are currently drinking at risky levels.

Approximately 3/4 of risky drinkers are men, and consumption is increasing among older males. From a health perspective, lifetime drinking can contribute to liver cirrhosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and mental health illness. Short-term drinking can contribute to alcohol-related admissions in hospitals due to accidents and violence - 6% of all ambulance call outs in Queensland are related to alcohol, and in three-quarters of these cases the patient was intoxicated.

If you're drinking more than 2 standard drinks on a given day, or more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion, you are heading into the territory defined as at-risk by the guidelines. If you're over those levels, it may be time to re-think your drinking and consider your relationship with alcohol. If you're you're pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or breastfeeding, it's safest not to drink alcohol at all

Ready to re-think your relationship with alcohol?

Want to know more about the overall state of Queensland's health?

You can download the complete Chief Health Officer's report or review some selected topics of interest.

Last updated: 23 August 2017