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Marion Downey
NDARC Communications Manager
02 9385 0180 or 0401 713 850

Lower back pain is the leading cause of ill health in Australians according to an international study, supported by UNSW’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. 

The study led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington and published in the Lancet, analysed 301 acute and chronic diseases and injuries in 188 countries.

The study assessed the impact of each of the conditions on mobility, hearing, vision or whether it caused pain in some way, to determine years lived with disability (YLDs).

In 2013, neck pain, migraines, and anxiety disorders were among the 10 leading causes of YLDs in Australia. For women in Australia, diabetes and Alzheimer’s have replaced iron-deficiency anemia and hearing loss in the top 10 causes of YLDs.

It also found people across Australia are living longer but spending more time in ill health as rates of nonfatal diseases and injuries, including low back pain, major depressive disorder, and other musculoskeletal disorders such as shoulder injuries and fractures from osteoporosis, decline more slowly than death rates.

Co-author of the study, Professor Louisa Degenhardt of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW, says the health of Australians is increasingly threatened by non-fatal ailments like back and neck pains and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety

“At the same time, deadly diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes are also costing Australians many years of healthy life. It is critical that we understand which diseases and injuries are causing disability so that we can effectively allocate resources.”

Other key findings from the study include:

  • As people aged they experienced a greater number of ailments resulting from nonfatal diseases and injuries: the number of people who suffered from 10 or more ailments increased by 52% between 1990 and 2013.
  • A relatively small number of diseases have a massive impact with just two acute diseases – affecting people for less than three months – caused more than 20 billion new cases of disease globally in 2013: upper respiratory infections (18.8 billion) and diarrheal diseases (2.7 billion).

Leading causes of YLDs in Australia for both sexes in 2013

  1. Low back pain
  2. Major depressive disorder
  3. Other musculoskeletal disorders
  4. Neck pain
  5. Migraine
  6. Anxiety disorders
  7. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  8. Asthma
  9. Age-related and other hearing loss
  10. Diabetes mellitus

Read the full NDARC media release here.