A quarter of heart-related hospital stays linked to disadvantage

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Heart disease and heart failure admissions could fall by a quarter if every Australian community had the same admission rate as the nation’s most advantaged areas.

When it comes to heart health, where you live matters as much as how you live, according to new research from the Heart Foundation.

Heart disease deaths are 50 per cent higher in disadvantaged, rural and remote areas, according to new data added to the Heart Foundation Heart Maps today. The areas also have higher rates of smoking and obesity – two major risk factors for heart disease.

Heart Foundation National CEO, Adjunct Professor John Kelly, said that while the Foundation encourages all Australians to manage heart disease risk factors, which also include high cholesterol and high blood pressure, the latest research shows the residential location of a person also has a big impact on their heart health.

Researchers found that, if every community had the same admission rate as the nation’s most advantaged areas, heart disease and heart failure admissions as a whole would fall by an estimated 28 per cent. In Queensland, this figure is closer to 40 per cent, and in the Northern Territory, it is 70 per cent.

For Australians living in the most disadvantaged areas:

  • Deaths from heart disease are 50 per cent higher than in those living in the most advantaged areas.

  • Hospitalisations due to heart attack and heart failure are at least 70 per cent higher.

For Australians living in rural and remote areas:

  • Deaths from heart disease are 60 per cent higher than for people in metropolitan areas.

  • Hospitalisations due to heart attack are double.

  • Hospitalisations due to heart failure are 90 per cent higher.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:

  • Deaths from heart disease are 70 per cent higher than in non-indigenous Australians.

  • Hospitalisations due to heart attack and heart failure at least double.

Obesity and smoking rates are included in Heart Maps for the first time at a local government level, showing the highest proportion of obese residents are in Tasmania (31 per cent) and Queensland (30 per cent). The residents most likely to smoke were in the Northern Territory (22 per cent) and Tasmania (19 per cent).

A glance around the country also reveals:

  • NSW is increasingly divided: It is over-represented in both the best and worst top 20 regions for all four indicators: heart-related admissions, mortality, obesity and smoking.

  • The Northern Territory has the highest rate of CHD mortality,heart-related hospital admissions and smoking of any state or territory.

  • Queensland Outback has the highest CHD mortality rate of any region, with a rate almost twice that of the Sunshine Coast. Queensland is also home to 12 of the country’s 20 hotspots for heart-related hospital admissions.

  • Western Australia had the second lowest obesity rate (24.6 per cent), but the WA Wheat Belt has double the obesity rate of Inner Perth.

  • Tasmania has the lowest hospital admission rate, yet one of the highest rates of heart disease deaths. More investigation is needed as to why this is the case.

  • Victorian regional centres Shepparton and Bendigo have the highest heart hospital admission rates in the state. Overall, Victoria ranks second lowest for CHD mortality rates and third lowest for smoking and obesity levels.

  • South Australia’s heart disease mortality rate and heart attack admission rates are on par with the national average , but there is a significant divide between its regional/rural areas compared to the metro regions of Adelaide.

  • At a regional level, the maps reveal significant inequalities: for example, a 5-fold difference in hospital admission rates between NT Outback (161 heart admissions per 10,000 people) and North Sydney and Hornsby (31/10,000 people).

“The Heart Foundation believes everyone should have the opportunity to make choices that allow them to live a healthy life, regardless of who they are or where they live,” Professor Kelly said.

“We appreciate that the Federal Government is addressing heart health inequity through its funding for Heart Foundation programs such as Walking, which particularly focuses on disadvantaged groups, and the Lighthouse project, which seeks to improve health outcomes by connecting culturally with Indigenous heart attack patients.

“There are also other ways in which the health system could better address the heart health needs of Australians. This begins with more heart health checks by GPs and preventative health measures.

“Secondly, helping people better recognise the symptoms of a heart attack, and act on them immediately, would result in more people getting to hospital quicker. And lastly, greater access to cardiac rehabilitation programs is critical for people who have suffered a first heart attack, especially those in these rural and remote areas, as rehabilitation can help prevent a second heart event.”

Learn more about the maps or go straight to the Heart Maps data tool, background information and a full technical report describing the data and analysis are available.

For interviews, or further information on state or regional differences, please contact Liselotte Geary, Senior National Media Adviser, Heart Foundation,

0411 310 997, liselotte.geary@heartfoundation.org.au