The likelihood of Indigenous Australians having two or more chronic health conditions is 2.6 times higher than for non-Indigenous Australians.

Researchers say; “this difference accounted for much of the difference in mortality between the two groups”.

“Life expectancy at birth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is estimated to be 11.5 years lower for men and 9.7 years lower for women than for other Australians,” a report in the MJA states.

“The burden of disease for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians … is more than twice that of other Australians, and non-communicable diseases are responsible for 70 per cent of the difference.”

Researchers at UNSW have studied the prevalence of ‘multimorbidities’ – the presence of two or more chronic health conditions – in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in NSW by analysing hospital and mortality data for around 5,500,000 NSW residents. Aboriginal Australians made up 2.2 per cent (117,999).

“[Of the Aboriginal patients] 31.5 per cent had at least one morbidity and 16.1 per cent had two or more, compared with 25 per cent and 12.1 per cent of non-Aboriginal patients,” they found.

“After adjusting for age, sex, and socio-economic status, the prevalence of multimorbidity among Aboriginal people was 2.6 times that for non-Aboriginal people. The prevalence of multimorbidity was higher among Aboriginal people in all age groups; in younger age groups because of the higher prevalence of mental morbidities, and from age 60 because of physical morbidities.

“From the age of 25 years, the prevalence of multimorbidity was at least 10 percentage points higher among Aboriginal than among non-Aboriginal patients, and 20 percentage points higher between the ages of 40 and 79 years.”

The risk of an Aboriginal Australian dying in one year was 2.4 times that of a non-Aboriginal Australian of the same age group and socioeconomic status.

“Providing high-quality care and evidence-based interventions, particularly interventions targeting alcohol and other substance use disorders, is crucial to reducing multimorbidity among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,” the report states.

“The weathering and premature ageing of Indigenous Australians are as related to poverty and stress as to poor access to health care, so it is vital that the societal position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians be improved, that poverty and disadvantage be eliminated, and that the social determinants of health — including early development, education, employment, and income — be improved to remove the disparities in multimorbidity and mortality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” they concluded.

The study is accessible here.