Media releases

March 23, 2016

HEAVY BODY, HEAVY MIND: THE STATE OF AUSTRALIA’S HEALTH REVEALED

Australians are heavier in body and mind than ever before, with both mental health and Body Mass Index (BMI) worsening since 2007-081, according to the inaugural Medibank Better Health Index2.

On the upside, Australia’s overall health has improved over the last eight years, with fitness recording the most significant increase across all major health areas. Additionally, the Medibank Better Health Index found that as a nation, we’re eating better, experiencing fewer medical issues, and smoking and drinking less.

Launched today, the Medibank Better Health Index – conducted by Roy Morgan Research – is Australia’s most up-to-date and comprehensive quarterly health survey. Interviewing approximately 1,000 Australians each week since 2007, the Index offers an in-depth look into the state of the nation’s health and how it’s changing.

“Our priority is to better understand the health of Australia – from where it stands today, how it’s changing, and the factors that are driving these shifts,” Medibank Chief Medical Officer, Dr Linda Swan says.

“The insights from this Index will not only help us better understand and cater to the individual needs of each and every one of the 3.9 million people we cover, but we hope it will empower all Australians to make more informed decisions about their own health.”

The Medibank Better Health Index is centered on seven health indicators: Nutrition, Fitness, BMI, Medical Health, Mental Health, Smoking and Alcohol. Combined, these make up an overall Health Index Score, which when compared year-on-year, reveals whether Australia’s health is improving or worsening over time. The Health Index Score started from a base of 100 in 2007, and has since increased as our nation’s overall health has improved.

Women fare the worst as Australia’s mental health tumbles

According to the latest Medibank Better Health Index, Australian men are healthier than women overall, with a Health Index Score of 102.67, compared to 101.59 for women. Women were found to fare worse in the area of mental health than men, with the Index finding women are approximately 10 per cent more likely to suffer from anxiety and stress3 and 4.6 per cent more likely to suffer from depression4.

Additionally, the incidence of anxiety has been increasing at a faster rate among women, rising by 9.2 per cent since 2007-08, compared with 5.5 per cent for men. In contrast, the incidence of depression has increased at a slightly faster rate among men, climbing 2.1 per cent since 2007-08, compared with 1.7 per cent for women.

"On a national level, Australia’s mental health is deteriorating. For example, the latest Index reveals the incidence of anxiety has doubled since 2008, with the number of sufferers growing from 1,593,000 to 3,174,000 – and alarmingly, around two thirds of these are women5,” Dr Swan says.

“Understanding the reasons why women record poorer mental health than men is complex, as it may be influenced by a range of things, including genetics, behavioural or lifestyle factors. It’s also important to consider that this observation may be impacted by an under-reporting from men, as we know they tend to be less likely to seek timely diagnosis and treatment for mental health issues.”

BMIs bulge despite improved fitness and nutrition

Over 11 million Australians are now overweight by an average of 16.5 kilograms each, with Australia’s excess weight now sitting at 180 thousand tonnes. According to the latest Medibank Better Health Index, our mean BMI has risen from 27.04 in 2007-08 to 27.19 in 2014-15, with both scores falling into the ‘overweight’ category.

This is particularly interesting given Australia’s overall fitness and nutrition levels have improved by 2.07 per cent and 0.95 per cent respectively in this same timeframe. For example:

 69.2% of Australians now ‘exercise regularly’, compared to 63.7% in 2007-08.

 The percentage of people engaging in the most popular forms of exercise – walking, jogging and gym/weight training has increased by 7.4%, 3.8% and 2.4% respectively.

 Visits to fast food chains have decreased since 2007-08, with those visiting three or more times per month decreasing by 2.8 per cent.

Roy Morgan Research Chief Executive Office, Michele Levine, says: "Getting the most accurate and comprehensive insights into Australia’s health and wellbeing is a complex task. That’s why we’ve been speaking with more than 50,000 Australians every year for the past eight years, most of which have been face-to-face. We are pleased that by powering the Medibank Better Health Index, our research will give Australians a greater understanding of national health trends and issues, so that they can feel more informed about their own individual health.”

To find out more about the Medibank Better Health Index and for further insights about the state of the nation’s health, visit medibank.com.au/healthbrief.

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