A new report from the Ministry of Health, "
Health Loss in New Zealand" calculates the estimated Burden of
Disease - an estimate of how much healthy life is lost due to
premature death, illness or impairment - in New Zealand.
The findings show that, according the most recent data from
2006, cancers (17.5%) and vascular and blood disorders (17.5%) were
the leading causes of health loss at the condition level, followed
by mental disorders (11%), musculoskeletal disorders (9%) and
Total loss of healthy life (measured in Disability
Adjusted Life Years), is expected to increase by 13.4% from
2006 to 2016, largely due to demographic changes.
"New Zealanders are living longer, yet this study shows that not
all of those extra years are being lived in good health," said
Chief Medical Officer, Dr Don Mackie in a
"As the population ages, it will become increasingly important
to add 'life to years' as well as 'years to life'"
Professors Tony Blakely and Nick Wilson, from University
of Otago, Wellington, have written about the report on the Public Health
An excerpt (read in full
"The Ministry of Health has just released a major new burden of
disease study for 2006, a culmination of a large epidemiological
stocktake for New Zealand.
"The study highlights changes in New Zealand, e.g. diet is
emerging as the major modifiable risk factor with respect to
disease burden. It also raises questions as to how useful a
burden of disease study is for prioritisation of public health
"The main metric used is disability-adjusted life years (DALYs),
a composite measure of mortality and morbidity that measures how
far we fall short of 'ideal' health. Comparisons can then be
made between types of people, diseases and over time.
"Key findings include:
- Cancers and cardiovascular disease each contribute 17.5% of the
total burden, followed by mental disorders (11%), musculoskeletal
disorders (9%) and injury (8%).
- Males have a 13% higher DALY rate than females - but it differs
for fatal conditions (much higher for males) and morbidity (higher
- Maori have about a 75% higher DALY rate than non-Maori.
[...] "A particularly useful part of the current Ministry study
are calculations of how much of the DALY burden is due to different
risk factors. This gives us information about how much health
gain we might achieve though 'ideal and complete' action on
modifiable risk factors.
"Not surprisingly, tobacco smoking stands out. 9.1% of all
DALYs could be averted if nobody had ever smoked. Getting rid
of tobacco out of New Zealand (as per the Government's smokefree
nation goal by 2025) remains an overwhelming policy priority if we
are aiming to improve the overall health, and reduce inequalities
in health, of New Zealanders.
"Interestingly, dietary risk factors combined (high salt intake,
high saturated fat intake, low vegetable and fruit intake, and
excess energy intake) accounted for 11.4% of DALYs in 2006 - more
than tobacco. And overweight and obesity has probably now
(i.e. 2013) overtaken tobacco in its contribuiton to disease burden
according to projections in the Ministry study. Improving the
nutritional environment of New Zealanders should therefore be a
high priority for the Government."