Aborigines Dying Young More Often

Ben Doherty, The Age (Melbourne), May 31, 2007

FOUR times more likely to die before the age of 25, twice as likely to be obese, twice as likely to smoke, and 13 times more likely to be in prison.

Indigenous Australian youth are disadvantaged on almost every welfare criterion, a new health and welfare report says, falling way behind their generally “healthy, happy and working” non-indigenous counterparts.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s report on the health of young Australians found the 17-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia was reflected in youth welfare.

Among Aboriginal youth, 2404 per 100,000 are in prison, compared with 181 across Australia. And 158 per 100,000 will die before 25, compared with 41 nationally, most through suicide and car accidents.

Releasing the report, Professor George Patton, from the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children’s Hospital, said the report highlighted a litany of indigenous disadvantage. “Mortality rates are four times higher for indigenous youth compared to other Australian young people. Rates of injury five times higher, rates of child protection orders and out-of-home care four times higher.

“It’s almost as if we have two worlds of youth health. One world of the mainstream, and another world for those youth at the margins.”

Labor has committed to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia within a generation and halve the indigenous mortality rate inside a decade. The Government, while it admits Labor’s targets are achievable, has not formally committed to targets.

Yesterday’s health institute report said the vast majority of Australians aged between 12 and 24 were “happy, healthy and working or studying”, Minister for Community Services Nigel Scullion said.

The study found 75 per cent are finishing year 12, compared with 49 per cent 20 years ago. Ninety per cent of young people rate their health as good to excellent and 91 per cent of year 7 students meet national reading benchmarks. Suicide and road-accident deaths have fallen by 40 per cent and 35 per cent respectively since 1995.

But obesity rates continue to rise among young people. Five per cent of 12 to 24-year-olds are obese, compared with 3 per cent in 2001. Overall, a quarter of young people are overweight or obese.

Instances of the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia, which can cause infertility in women, have risen over recent years, and the number of HIV infections among young men also has gone up.

The number of young people hospitalised for Crohn’s disease has increased by 58 per cent over the past decade and the number going to hospital for diabetes is up 16 per cent since 2001. Nearly half of all young Australians drink to risky levels. The report found less than half of Australia’s young people eat enough vegetables.

“By and large young Australians are doing very well indeed,” Senator Scullion said.

“It’s particularly pleasing to see a substantial increase in the education retention rate to year 12 over the last 20 years.”

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