Deadly reality of chronic rural health issues

CLARENCE Valley residents are more likely to 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 Daily Examiner today reveals a set of shocking statistics as we ramp up our Fair Go for Clarence Valley 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 Social Health Atlas of Australia reveals the following alarming health trends for our region.


At least 22.8% of Clarence Valley residents smoke compared to 14.5% in the region's closest capital city, Brisbane.


About 5.4% of our residents drink alcohol to excess. This figure is higher than Brisbane on 4.9%.


Almost one third of the Clarence Valley population is obese. At 31.9%, our obesity rate is higher than Brisbane's 25.2%.


Our avoidable cancer death rate of 121.5 per 100,000 residents from 2009 to 2012 was significantly higher than Brisbane's 93.6.


Deaths from avoidable heart disease in the same period hit 26.9 per 100,000 people in Clarence Valley. This was higher than Brisbane's rate of 25 per 100,000 residents.

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 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 Clarence Valley's negative health trends.

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."

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