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The great heart health divide: killer gap exposed in new data
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The great heart health divide: killer gap exposed in new data

Media Release - 1 December 2020

Your heart health hinges on your address and hip pocket, suggests new data showing that Australians living in disadvantaged, regional and remote areas remain in the heart disease firing line.

New Australian Heart Maps figures, unveiled today, reveal heart disease deaths are more than 50% higher for Australians in very remote locations compared to their capital city counterparts.

Regional and rural areas dominate the nation’s death and hospitalisation hotspots.

Red flags for heart disease, such as high rates of obesity, lack of exercise and high blood pressure are worse across the board in regional Australia, the data confirm.

Where your neighbourhood sits on the socio-economic ladder is also linked to the likelihood of being a heart disease statistic.

When compared to the most privileged areas, Australians living in the most disadvantaged areas are nearly twice as likely to be hospitalised for a heart attack. Their obesity and heart disease death rates are more than 50% higher than those in the top socio-economic group.

Heart Foundation Group CEO, Adjunct Professor John Kelly, says the maps highlight the gap that persists between affluent city communities and less advantaged rural areas.

In the Northern Territory Outback – the nation’s heart death capital – heart disease death rates are almost 2.5 times higher than in the well-heeled suburbs of northern Sydney.

“The results show there’s a great divide in heart health across some communities, and people in regional, rural and remote areas are faring worse than big city dwellers,” Professor Kelly said.

“It’s no coincidence that regions with the highest rates of heart disease are also the ones likely to be the most disadvantaged areas. Unsurprisingly, we are also seeing alarming rates of risk factors in these hotspots, which has huge implications for residents’ future heart health.”

Death rates vary greatly across the states and territories. The NT has the highest rate of 90 heart disease deaths out of every 100,000 people, compared to 54 in the ACT. 

Tasmania and Queensland rank second and third after the NT, each with heart disease death rates climbing well above the national average. Fifteen of the worst hotspots are in Queensland or New South Wales, including Queensland’s Outback and Logan-Beaudesert regions.

Sixteen of the 20 regions with the highest heart disease death rates are in regional and rural Australia. On the other end, 17 of the 20 regions with the lowest death rates are in urban areas. 

There is a similar city-country divide for heart disease hospitalisations: Eight of the 10 worst-affected areas are dotted across regional or rural parts of the country.

Risk factor hotspots are almost exclusively in the regions, where obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and low levels of physical activity are a significant problem.

More than one in three Tasmanians (33.6%) is obese – the largest proportion of any state or territory.

All top 10 obesity hotspots are in regional or rural locations, with unhealthy weight rates in regional pockets of NSW at least twice as high as metro areas in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. 

Queensland and NSW are home to nine of the 10 least active places, mainly in regional areas but led by Sydney – South West. Aussies clocking up the most activity are almost all in capital cities.

High blood pressure levels sit at about 23% of adults in NSW and Queensland, the highest of all states, while they are lowest in the NT at just under 18%. Central Queensland is the nation’s high blood pressure capital, where the ‘silent killer’ affects almost one in four adults.

The NT has the highest smoking rate, with more than one in five Territorians lighting up – more than double compared to the ACT. At a regional level, the North West region in country Victoria is the top smoking hotspot, while smoking rates are lowest in North Sydney and Hornsby.

Professor Kelly said glaring disparities in rates of heart disease and risk factors must be addressed.

“The Heart Foundation is committed to bringing these numbers down, especially in regional and rural areas bearing the brunt of the heart disease epidemic,” Professor Kelly said.

“These maps illustrate which parts of the country are in the greatest need of heart health services and investment, and we urge governments at all levels to step up measures to turn these statistics around. All Australians should be able to live a full and healthy life, no matter where they live.

“We also implore everyone to take action to protect their heart health – if you’re 45 and over, or from age 30 if you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, talk to your GP about having a Heart Health Check.”

Media enquiries

Brigid Simeoni, Media Advisor
M: 0427 619 589 E: brigid.simeoni@heartfoundation.org.au

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