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What is chronic disease?

Chronic diseases are long-term conditions that have an enormous impact on individuals, families, communities, health systems and the economy. These include cancer, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and kidney disease. 


Chronic diseases are the leading cause of illness, disability, and death in Australia, accounting for around 90% of all deaths. 1 in 2 Australians have a chronic disease and 1 in 5 Australians have multiple chronic conditions. See AIHW Australia's Health report for more detail.


However, much chronic disease is preventable. Poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and overweight and obesity are common modifiable risk factors. Nearly 40% of Australia's chronic disease burden could be prevented by reducing modifiable risk factors.


Globally, the World Health Organization estimates at least 80% of premature heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and over 40% of cancer could be prevented. 

Key statistics

1 in 3 cancers could be prevented by addressing modifiable risk factors, including smoking, UV radiation, overweight and obesity, poor diet and alcohol. Yet 1 in 2 of us will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. Each year, it is estimated there will be nearly 150,000 new cancer cases diagnosed and close to 50,000 deaths from cancer. 

Kidney disease

1 in 3 Australians have risk factors for chronic kidney disease and around 1.5 million Australians are unaware they are living with signs of kidney disease. Up to 90% of kidney function can be lost before any symptoms are experienced, hence why screening and early detection are important. Chronic kidney disease costs the economy more than $5 billion per year.

Heart disease

Coronary heart disease is the leading single cause of death in Australia and costs the health system more than $2.2 billion each year. More than 1.4 million Australians are at high risk of having a heart event in the next five years, yet only 30% are receiving guideline-recommended treatment.


1 in 4 people will experience a stroke in their lifetime, yet more than 80% of strokes could be prevented. The estimated economic cost of stroke in Australia exceeded $6.2 billion in 2020.


Around 500,000 people are living with silent undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. Around 2 million Australians have prediabetes and are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. There is strong evidence that early detection of prediabetes (impaired glucose tolerance) and targeted programs can prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes in up to 60% of cases.

Lung Disease

1 in 3 Australians have a lung disease, and it is the second leading cause of death in Australia. There are over 30 types of lung disease, and it is estimated that 50% of people with COPD are currently undiagnosed. Lung diseases costs the Australian health system $8 Billion annually.

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