What is prevention?

Prevention is critical to ensure long-term health for all Australians. Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in this country. Most adults have at least one risk factor for developing a chronic disease.1

It is estimated that up to 80% of premature deaths due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes and 40% of cancer-related deaths could be prevented by eliminating risk factors.2

Defining prevention

Preventive activities involve risk factor management through lifestyle change and pharmacological intervention.

According to the RACGP, ‘Preventive healthcare includes the prevention of illness, early detection of specific disease, and the promotion and maintenance of health.3

Modifying risk factors can reduce the incidence of chronic disease, which will lessen the burden of premature death and disability.1 Well-planned prevention programs have contributed to the improvement in the quality and duration of lives in Australia.

For example, anti-smoking campaigns have successfully reduced the number of Australian’s who smoke from around 70% of men in the 1950s to 15% now.4 This reduction in smoking rates has resulted in plummeting mortality rates from lung cancer and obstructive lung disease for males from the highs seen in the 1970s and 1980s.5

Australians are living longer and in better health than any time before. The mortality from preventable chronic disease including cancer and diabetes mellitus is falling — a reduction of 17% in 10 years.6 Daily smoking rates have fallen, and continue to do so, as have the rates of risky alcohol consumption.7 However, other risk factors continue to rise; for example, more than half of all Australians are overweight and do not meet the guidelines for sufficient daily activity.7

For more information

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Risk factors contributing to chronic disease. 2012. www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=10737421466 (accessed  13 February 2013).
  2. World Health Organization. Preventing chronic diseases: a vital investment: WHO global report. Geneva: WHO, 2005. www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/en/ (accessed  12 December 2012).
  3. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice (the red book). 8th edn. Melbourne: RACGP, 2012. www.racgp.org.au/Content/NavigationMenu/ClinicalResources/RACGPGuidelines/TheRedBook/redbook_7th_edition_May_2009.pdf (accessed  11 February 2013).
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia's health 2010: the twelfth biennial health report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.  Australians health series Canberra: AIHW, 2010; 12. www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=6442452962 (accessed  12 December 2012).
  5. National Preventive Health Taskforce. Australia: the healthiest country by 2020: Obesity in Australia. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2009. www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/E233F8695823F16CCA2574DD00818E64/$File/obesity-jul09.pdf (accessed 20 February 2012).
  6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Key indicators of progress for chronic disease and associated determinants. 2011. www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=10737419245 (accessed  10 January 2013).
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Health Survey: first results, 2011–12. 2012. www.abs.gov.au/ausstats (accessed  8 January 2013).