Lifestyle diseases and your health

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The decisions you make today can have an enormous impact on your future and this could not be more true when it comes to your health: the lifestyle that you choose to lead can cause certain lifestyle diseases to developi. Despite having choice and control when it comes down to lifestyle factors - such as what we eat, how often we exercise, whether we choose to smoke and the amount of alcohol we drink, lifestyle diseases remain the leading cause of death in Australia - with heart disease being the most prevalentii.

Sedentary lifestyles can cause obesity and lead to the development of lifestyle diseases.

Types of lifestyle diseases

Of the top 10 causes of death in Australia in 2009, 8 are lifestyle related; of the top 20, 14 are lifestyle relatedii.

Top fatal lifestyle diseases have been revealed in research conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statisticsii. Since 2000, heart disease has been the leading cause of death followed by Cerebrovascular Disease (Strokes)ii. Today, a major concern for health professionals has been the increasing number of people diagnosed with Type II Diabetesiii, the disease has leapt from 9th place in 2000 to 6th place in 2009ii. Cirrhosis and other diseases of the liver claimed the lives of 1,547 people in 2009: this cause of death ranked 19thii.

In 2009, although 29.8% of deaths were caused by cancersii, Cancer Council Australia believes that the 13,000 lifestyle-related cancer deaths every year are preventableiv. Similar to contributing factors of other lifestyle diseases, they pinpoint smoking, poor diet, alcohol, insufficient exercise, being overweight and sun exposure as lifestyle choices that can be changed to minimise the risk of developing canceriv.

You are what you eat

The National Health Survey 2007-8 indicates that about 3 in 5 Australians (61.4%) are overweight or obesev. Poor diet and sedentary lifestyles are known contributors to child and adult obesity. Here in Australia, most of us will have the freedom and means to make choices about what we eat, how much we eat and how often. Despite this, 94% of Australians are not eating the recommended amount of fruit or vegetables as part of their daily dietvi. To make matters worse, 62% of Australian adults do not meet National Physical Activity Guidelinesvii.

There has been significant research and statistical evidence to show that obesity plays a role in chronic illnessesv. Obesity has strong links to heart disease - Australia's number one killer - Cerebrovascular disease (strokes), some cancers, Type II diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol that can lead to heart attacks and strokesv. All these diseases can seriously impact a person's wellbeing and can have negative impacts on a person's quality of life. For example hypertension does not just mean you have high blood pressure - it also increases your chance of heart attacks or heart failure, stroke, and is even attributed to chronic kidney diseasevi. People who are obese are twice as likely to have hypertension than someone of a normal weightvi.

Poor diet can lead to heart disease, Type II diabetes and some cancers.

Smoking can kill

Cigarette smoke is by far the most common cause of lung cancerviii (attributed as the main cause in 88% of lung cancers in men over 35 and 75% in women over 35ix). Lung cancer is the second leading cause of death in males, after heart disease, and fourth leading cause of death for femalesx in Australia.

In 2004-5, 23% of Australian adults were smokersxi; in 2007, only 19% of adults claimed to smoke cigarettesxii. As people become more aware of the dangers of smoking, fewer adults choose to take up this habit. Despite this decline in the number of smokers, existing smokers still need to think about the long-term effects on their health. Right now, Australia has high numbers of deaths caused by smoking-related diseases. This is because smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer usually take two or more decades to developviii and we are seeing deaths of an older generation that are experiencing the destructive effects of smoking from long agoviii.

Alcohol is a cause of lifestyle diseases

Culturally, alcohol has been consumed in Australia since rum arrived into the country with the First Fleet in 1788xiii. However, what is often disregarded is that when consumed in excess or abused, the effects of alcohol are detrimental. Not only may alcohol cause harm from its direct intoxicating effects, patterns of alcohol misuse may also damage organs over time and cause lifestyle diseasesxiv.

Excessive alcohol consumption causes the death of over 5,000 people per year nationwide, and for each death about 19 years of life are prematurely lostxiii. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) links prolonged alcohol abuse to heart disease, cancers, obesity, malnutrition, mental health issues, addiction to alcohol (alcoholism) and liver diseasesxiv. The NHMRC also identifies cirrhosis of the liver to be most commonly caused by alcohol abuse.

Lifestyle diseases are the leading cause of death in Australiaii. Take note of the detrimental effects unhealthy habits may have on your wellbeing and future, and minimise your risk of developing a lifestyle disease. You have the power to change your lifestyle, and you also have control over making your family's financial future secure.

Providing future financial security for your family should not be an afterthought, it is important to consider while you are young and healthy, before you have any health scares, and while there are still a range of options available to you.

With Allianz life insurance, you can protect your family financially if you are impacted by these diseases. Contact Allianz online today for a life insurance quote.

i Al-Maskari, 2010 Lifestyle Diseases: An Economic Burden on the Health Services, UN Chronicle,

ii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011, Causes of Death, Australia (2009) updated 03/05/11,

iii Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease, Tackling the problem of 'lifestyle diseases', The University of Sydney,

iv Cancer Council Australia, 2011, Cancer Smart Lifestyle, updated 05/08/11,

v Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2010, Overweight and Obesity in Australia,

vi Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011, Overweight and Obesity in Adults in Australia: A Snapshot 2007-8, Nutrition,

vii Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011, Physical Activity in Australia: A Snapshot, 2007-8 Measures of Physical Activity,

viii Scollo, M. M. & Winstanley, M. H. [editors], 2008, Tobacco in Australia: Facts and Issues. Third Edition. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria,

ix Collins, D. & Lapsley, H., 2008, The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004-05, Department of Health and Ageing,$File/mono64.pdf

x Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009, Causes of Death, Australia, Leading Causes of Death by Gender,

xi Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006, Tobacco Smoking in Australia: A Snapshot, 2004-5,

xii OxyGen, 2012, How Many People Smoke?

xiii Department of Health and Ageing, 2011, Prevalence of alcohol consumption and related harms in Australia,$File/tre2.pdf

xiv Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, 2012, Alcohol and Health in Australia,