While COVID-19 has preoccupied us all in recent months, Australians are being urged not to ignore long-term risk of chronic disease during the pandemic, as a new report highlights overweight and obesity as a major risk factor affecting two in three Australian adults, and one in four children.
Australia’s Health 2020 – a new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report shows that while Australians are living longer, some risk factors like overweight and obesity have been steadily increasing over the past few decades.
Chronic disease ‘cannot be overlooked’
Chair of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, Sharon McGowan, says this is a worrying trend, especially given the number of people affected.
“We know that overweight and obesity increase risk of many chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, chronic kidney disease and many cancers,” she says.
“But, more recently, we have also discovered that obesity increases risk of severe disease from COVID-19.”
Other factors that increase the risk of severe disease from COVID-19 have been reported to be smoking and having a chronic condition or multiple comorbidities.
“While the world is focusing on COVID-19, it is clear that chronic diseases and their risk factors cannot be overlooked,” adds Ms McGowan.
Increasing knowledge and awareness
The key to preventing much of the burden of chronic disease, according to Ms McGowan, is educating the community to understand the link between the risk factors and chronic disease.
“Australians should be supported to understand their risk of chronic disease and manage their health before it becomes and emergency,” she says.
The new report shows that one in 15 hospitalisations is potentially preventable and nearly half of these are due to chronic conditions at a cost of $2.3 billion each year.
“Primary and community healthcare centres are ideal places to ask people about their health, conduct risk assessments and provide the right support or intervention to help people manage their risk,” says Ms McGowan.
“With knowledge and support, many risk factors and conditions can be managed out of hospital, providing a better quality of life for Australians, reducing complications and easing the burden on the hospital system.”
Make use of telehealth services
While COVID-19 measures may have limited face-to-face access to healthcare professionals in some instances, Ms McGowan highlights telehealth and pop-up testing clinics as recent government initiatives to improve access to care for people across Australia during COVID-19.
“If we’ve learned anything from COVID-19, it is that government support for prevention, early detection and intervention can pay huge dividend in reducing the risk of serious conditions and complications,” she says.