Central Highlands faces an uphill health battle

CENTRAL Highlands residents are more likely to take their own lives or die of avoidable diseases caused by smoking, drinking and obesity than Aussies living in capital city suburbs.

A special ARM Newsdesk analysis of public health data shows the long-term outlook for our region's residents is dire.

The Central Queensland News today reveals a set of shocking statistics as we ramp up our Fair Go for Emerald campaign in the lead-up to the mooted July 2 double dissolution election.

We are calling for iron-clad federal guarantees on a range of issues, including health, education and employment, so we can have the same advantages and outcomes as metropolitan Australia.

An in-depth analysis of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Social Health Atlas of Australia reveals the following alarming health trends for our region.

 At least 19.7% of Central Highlands residents smoke compared to 14.5% of Brisbane residents and 18% of all Australians.

 About 5.5% of our region's residents drink alcohol to excess. This figure is higher than Brisbane on 4.9% and the national level of 4.7%.

 Central Highlands' suicide rate was 12.2 deaths per 100,000 residents between 2009 and 2012. This figure is above Brisbane's rate of 11 deaths per 100,000 and the Australian level of 10.8 deaths.

 Almost one third of Central Highlands' population is obese. At 32.9%, our obesity rate is 7.7 percentage points higher than Brisbane, where 25.2% of the population is obese. About 27.5% of Australians are obese.

 Our avoidable cancer death rate of 111 per 100,000 residents from 2009 to 2012 was significantly higher than Brisbane's, where the rate was 93.6 and it was higher than the national level of 102.6 deaths per 100,000 residents.

 Deaths from avoidable heart disease in the same period hit 31.1 per 100,000 in the Central Highlands. This was higher than the Brisbane and national rates of 25 and 25.6 respectively.

The recent Medical Research and Rural Health - Garvan Report 2015 confirms that death rates from chronic and avoidable diseases increase the further you get from capital cities.

The Garvan Research Foundation's researchers analysed data from peak health bodies across the country.

As well as the above statistics, they found regional areas also had steeper rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and mental health problems.

The report reveals many reasons for the health disparities, but most of them revolve around a set of social factors that include smaller household incomes, higher risk jobs such as mining and farming, a lack of similar specialist medical services compared to metropolitan Australia and the higher cost of transporting healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegies to our region.

"The foundation of all good policy is a solid information base and a good understanding of the realities facing any sector of the population," Garvan chief executive Andrew Giles said.

Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Stephen Parnis agreed, saying it would take long-term commitments from successive governments to reverse the negative health trends in the Central Highlands.

Dr Parnis said the first step towards bridging the gaps was ensuring our region had the same health services as those available to capital city residents.

"We (the AMA) are always the first to acknowledge the data that shows nearly every health outcome is worse the further you are from a capital city," Dr Parnis said.

"We recently increased our recommendation to the government that a third of the nation's medical student intake be from a country area.

"We've also talked about regional training networks so when doctors are training to be specialists, they spend as much time as possible in a certain region because it promotes familiarity and helps them put down roots."

If you or someone you know is experiencing crisis please phone Lifeline on 131 114.

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