Local health profile alarming

WE HAVE more heart problems, we have higher blood pressure but our levels of cholesterol are at least lower than most other Australians across the country, new statistics reveal. 

But while we’re at least not as fat, we smoke more and we don’t get as much exercise to help our health.

The most recent data shows that, across the North and New England, almost a quarter of locals have heart disease, more than a third have high blood pressure and more than a quarter have high cholesterol, the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show. 

The figures also highlight a worrying disparity between metropolitan and regional areas, with one in four people in the bush contracting cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke), compared to one in five in the capital cities. 

Rates of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are consistently higher in regional NSW than in Sydney, a fact that should serve as “an alarm bell” for governments, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) said. 

RDAA vice president John Hall said there was an urgent need for more doctors in rural Australia to provide healthcare and stem the tide of chronic disease in the regions. 

“We know that rural and remote Australians tend to have poorer diets, smoke more, and be more overweight,” Dr Hall said.

“But an immensely critical factor here is that it is simply much harder for rural and remote Australians to access a local doctor or local health service.”

Dr Hall said for many rural Australians, a visit to the doctor could include a four-hour round trip and a whole day off work. 

“That becomes a real disincentive for those living in the bush to have regular primary care checkups, which can help prevent conditions like cardiovascular disease occurring in the first place.”

An alarming 20.9 per cent of New England and North West residents are smokers (compared to 18 per cent nationally) and a whopping 61.3 per cent are “insufficiently active.”

Although more than a quarter of New England locals are obese (26.8 per cent), this falls slightly below the national average of 27.5 per cent. 

The figures were collated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2011 to 2012 and analysed by the National Heart Foundation of Australia. 

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