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Key statistics: Risk factors for cardiovascular disease

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Key statistics: Risk factors for cardiovascular disease

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  • The information on our Key Statistics pages is drawn from a variety of reputable sources including the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
  • These pages are intended to be a helpful resource for anyone seeking reliable information on cardiovascular disease and its risk factors in Australia, including consumers, researchers, healthcare policy makers, media and health professionals.

Risk factors for cardiovascular disease

There are many different risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing a cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as coronary heart disease.  

Key risk factors that contribute to heart conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are largely preventable.

Explore the latest statistics relating to cardiovascular disease risk factors below. 

After learning about how various risk factors can affect your heart health, why not try our Heart Age Calculator to get your estimated heart age?

Blood Pressure1

High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is a common condition of the circulatory system and is widely recognised as a leading risk factor for CVD.2

  • Around 1 in 4 adults living in Australia have high blood pressure (23%).
  • More men live with hypertension than women (25% compared to 22%). 
  • The risk of developing high blood pressure increases with age, with almost 4 out of 5 adults living with hypertension by the age of 75 years. 
  • Despite high blood pressure being so common, only 5% of adults name high blood pressure as a key risk factor for heart disease.3


High blood cholesterol is another important risk factor that can lead to CVD.  

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance needed to make hormones and vitamin D in your body. Your body produces cholesterol naturally, and it’s also found in some foods.   

  • More than 2 in 5 (42%) Australian adults are living with high cholesterol.4
  • High cholesterol is most common in people aged 55 to 64 years of age. 
  • Only 7% of adults named high cholesterol as a key risk factor for heart disease.3

Overweight or obesity1 

Body mass index (BMI) is a way to estimate your body size and is calculated using your height and weight (your weight divided by your height squared).

A person is classified as overweight if their BMI is 25 or over and as obese if 30 or over.  

  • 2 in 3 (66%) Australian adults are overweight or living with obesity, with the number of people living with overweight and obesity increasing over time. 
  • Around 1 in 4 (28%) children and adolescents are above a healthy weight.
  • Overweight and obesity is more common in men (71%) than women (61%), with these proportions increasing for both males and females over time. 
  • Despite large proportions of Australian adults living with overweight or obesity, only 1 in 4 adults believe that being overweight or obese is a risk factor for developing heart disease.3

It’s important to remember that BMI is not the most reliable measure of whether your weight is in a healthy range for your height. It’s not a good overall indicator of how healthy you are, and doesn’t take into account important factors like age, gender and body composition (fat, muscle and bone).

Visit our BMI calculator to find out your BMI.


The smoking statistics below are about people who are ‘current, daily smokers’.

  • Around 11% of Australian adults (2.1 million people) are current daily smokers. This proportion has steadily declined from 22.4% in 2001. 
  • Nearly three in five (58%) adults have never smoked. The proportion of adults who have never smoked has also increased over time.
  • Men are more likely than women to smoke daily (12.6% compared to 8.7%).
  • Both men and women aged 55-64 years are most likely to smoke.
  • 1 in 3 (31%) adults believe that smoking is a key risk factor to developing heart disease.3

Physical activity1

The information below is based on self-reported 'total physical activity’ which includes sport and exercise, walking for fitness or transport and workplace activity. 

  • 3 in every 4 (75%) adults do not meet the Australian physical activity guidelines and 1 in 8 people (12%) do no physical activity at all. 
  • Rates of physical activity have slightly improved since the 2017-18 National Health Survey. 
  • Slightly more women don’t meet physical activity guidelines (78%) compared to men (73%). 
  • Only one third of adults believe that low levels of exercise is a key risk factor for heart disease.3


Contemporary evidence indicates there is no safe or recommended amount of alcohol consumption for cardiovascular health.

For some conditions, particularly atrial fibrillation and high blood pressure, the risk of developing the condition increases the more alcohol a person consumes.

  • More than 5.2 million adults (27%) exceed Australian alcohol consumption guidelines, with men being twice as likely as women to exceed these guidelines. 
  • Despite high rates of excessive alcohol consumption by adult men, this has been decreasing over time. 
  • Men aged 55-64 years and women aged 35-44 are most likely to exceed alcohol guidelines. 
  • Only 1 in 10 Australian adults believe that alcohol consumption is a risk factor for heart disease.3 


An unhealthy diet is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease. 

People of all ages living in Australia generally do not eat enough of the main food groups needed to maintain overall health, and eat too many foods high in salt, saturated fat and added sugar.  

What you eat and drink can impact on several heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. 

  • 93.5% of adults in Australia do not meet the recommended intake of vegetables (5 or more servings of vegetables a day), with this proportion increasing over the past two decades. 
  • The average adult eats less than half the recommended serves of vegetables per day. 
  • Improving vegetable intake to meet the recommended 5 or more serves per day is estimated to help reduce the risk of CVD in the Australian population by 17%.5

Links to other Key Statistics topics:

Key statistics: Heart attack

Statistics and information on heart attack in Australia

Key statistics: Cardiovascular disease

Statistics and information on cardiovascular disease in Australia.

Hands of several people forming a heart shape, with outdoors background
Key statistics: Heart failure

Statistics and information on heart failure in Australia

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2023, National Health Survey 2022. Available from: 

2. Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network. Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 (GBD 2019) Results. Seattle, United States: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2020. Available from: 

3. Heart Foundation HeartWatch Survey, December 2020 (unpublished) 

4. Prevalence of high cholesterol is defined as all Australian adults that had high measured total cholesterol, and/or self-reported as having high cholesterol. 

5. Deloitte Access Economics, 2016. The impact of increasing vegetable consumption on health expenditure. Prepared for Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited. Available from: 

Last updated10 January 2024