Alarming levels of poorer health within indigenous children and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds tops a new list of 12 major issues threatening the future health of Australia.
Created by Research Australia in consultation with child health experts and using the latest data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the 'Top 12 Health Issues Facing Australian Children' also puts high priority on rising problems associated with modern lifestyles such as mental health, obesity, and diabetes.
Issues which have caused concern for many years including immunisation, asthma and allergy, childhood injury, disability, cancer, sun awareness and child abuse, neglect and domestic violence are also featured.
The list was unveiled today at the launch of this year's "Thank You" Day program which celebrates the achievements of Australian health and medical researchers and urges them on to continue to address the burning issues affecting the nation's health.
Research Australia CEO Dr Christine Bennett said Australian children today enjoy good health compared to past generations thanks to major breakthroughs in medical research such as the discovery of penicillin, immunisation programs, better management of diseases like asthma and SIDS prevention.
"There are, however, areas of significant concern emerging which may threaten the quality and length of our children's lives," she said.
"The 'Top 12' includes life-threatening illnesses, common diseases and risk factors which impact healthy development and living. Australian researchers are tackling these issues, working hard behind the scenes to make a difference," she said.
Top 12 Health Issues Facing Australian Children
- Indigenous Health - life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is an alarming 20 years behind that for all Australians, indigenous babies die at three times the rate of other Australians and children at double the rate.
- Mental Health - experts are convinced more and more Australian children are suffering poor mental health with depression, suicide and behavioural disorders on the rise. Children from step, blended or sole parent families are more than twice as likely to have a mental health problem.
- Obesity - with type 2 diabetes increasingly affecting children, much of the blame is being laid on rising levels of overweight and obesity. Flow on effects include rising levels of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and depression as children reach adulthood and beyond.
- Asthma - the most common health condition among Australia children and the most frequent cause of hospitalisation and medical care. Prevalence has now stabilised at about 13% after rising since the early 1980s. Incidence is highest among children aged 5-9 at 16%.
- Infant Mortality - Australia's infant mortality rate has halved over the last two decades, however infants still account for two out of three deaths among children aged under 15. Those from low socioeconomic areas are twice as likely to die before their first birthday.
- Child Abuse, Neglect and Domestic Violence - with more victims being counted and reported, experts believe the prevalence of child abuse and neglect is on the rise. It is a major cause of disability and has a lifelong impact on health, mental health and participation in society.
- Diabetes - Australia is facing a future diabetes epidemic with type 1 (or juvenile) and type 2 (late onset) on the rise. Type 2 is uncommon in people under 40 yet more and more cases are emerging among young Australians. Experts are still unsure why type 1 is increasing and are striving to find out.
- Immunisation - vaccine coverage needs to exceed 90% to stop ongoing transmission of diseases but only 84% of six year olds were fully immunised in 2004. As we develop more and more effective vaccines, the challenge is how to give them all and, with many diseases now disappearing, how to ensure parents stay committed to immunisation.
- Childhood Injury and Poisoning - with the threat of infectious diseases dramatically reduced, the percentage of deaths resulting from accidents including car smashes, drowning, burns and poisoning has surged and now accounts for four in 10 deaths of children aged 1-14.
- Disability - some 320,000 Australian children are currently diagnosed with a disability - intellectual, behavioural, mental or physical. Worryingly the proportion of children with a disability is highest among low-income households, placing further strain on families struggling to cope.
- Cancer - whilst the incidence of childhood cancer remains stable, research has delivered huge treatment improvements in some types, especially leukaemia, resulting in five-year relative survival rates above 70%. Despite this dramatic improvement, survival rates for other types of cancer are still low.
- Sun Awareness - with a skin cancer epidemic hitting older Australians, experts believe sun exposure during childhood is an important risk factor. Two in three Australians will get skin cancer in their life so it is vital Australians continue to lead the world in melanoma research and practice good sun awareness.