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Australian life expectancy falls for first time in decades

Australia’s life expectancy fell for the first time in almost 30 years during the COVID-19 pandemic, a government report has revealed.

Australian life expectancy falls for first time in decades.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) on Tuesday released its latest biennial flagship report on the nation’s health.

Australia ranks fourth highest among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, coming in only behind Japan, South Korea and Switzerland.

It revealed that the life expectancy of a child born in Australia between 2020 and 2022 was 81.2 years for males and 85.3 years for females, down 0.1 years for both compared to children born between 2019 and 2021.

According to the AIHW, it marks the first time since the mid-1990s that Australia’s life expectancy has decreased.

The fall in life expectancy is likely due to the number of deaths due to COVID-19. Almost half of the deaths in 2022 were linked to COVID-19.

This is the first time in more than 50 years an infectious disease has been in the top five leading causes of death. Source Australian Institute for Health and Welfare

“Even though life expectancy in Australia decreased in 2020–2022, it was still higher than it was in 2017–2019, prior to the pandemic, by 0.3 years for males and females,” AIHW Deputy Chief Executive Officer Matthew James said

“COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death in Australia in 2022, marking the first time in over 50 years that an infectious disease has been in the top 5 causes of death”.

Falling life expectancies due to COVID-19 were worse in the US and the UK. In Britain, life expectancy dropped from 81.3 in 2019 to 80.4 in 2020. 

In the US, life expectancy fell by more than two years, from 78.9 in 2019 to 76.4 in 2021.

The report also found that while Australians were living more years in good health, the years they spent in ill-health was also increasing.

Life expectancy has fallen for Australians for the first time in decades. Photo iStock

Chronic conditions are on the rise, the report noted, with the majority of Australians – about six in 10 – now living with a chronic illness.

In the future, more and more people will be living with multiple chronic conditions.

About 90 percent of deaths in Australia between 2002 to 2022 were due to chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and dementia.

The report also detailed Australia’s spending on health, which was about $241 billion in 2021-2022.

As a proportion of GDP, Australia is ranked 15th for spending on health, compared to 38 OECD nations. (AIHW)