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The first Medibank Better Health Index reveals the state of Australia’s health

Australians are heavier in body and mind than ever before.

The first quarterly Medibank Better Health Index – launched in partnership with Roy Morgan Research – reveals the state of Australia’s health.

What we found

Our data shows we’re heavier of body and mind than ever before, with our mental health and weight worsening since 2007. Despite these problem areas, our overall health has improved, with fitness recording the most significant improvement of all major health areas.  We’re also eating better, experiencing fewer medical issues, and smoking and drinking less.

Both mental health and Body Mass Index (BMI) have worsened 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.

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.

The latest Medibank Better Health Index shows:

Note, Indicator scores are calculated based on multiple questions relevant to each health area. If an Indicator score has increased over time, health has improved in this area. If it has decreased, health has worsened. E.g. the Indicator score for ‘Smoking’ has increased by 2.05% since 2007-08, meaning we’re smoking less.

Note: Indicator scores are calculated based on multiple questions relevant to each health area. If an Indicator score has increased over time, health has improved in this area. If it has decreased, health has worsened. E.g. the Indicator score for ‘Smoking’ has increased by 2.05% since 2007-08, meaning we’re smoking less.

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,” Medibank Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Linda 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.

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. Stay tuned for further Index releases on medibank.com.au/healthbrief.

1 Data collected from October 2007 to September 2008
2 Data collected from October 2014 to September 2015
3 12.5% of men were found to suffer from anxiety, compared with 21.9% of women. 20.2% of men were found to suffer from stress, compared with 30.8% of women.
4 2.4% of men were found to suffer from depression, compared with 17.0% of women
5 2,042,000 women, 1,133,000 men

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