Australian Men and Their Health

About Men’s Health

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) on average, Australian males experience different and poorer health outcomes compared to Australian females. Men are more likely than females to engage in risky health behaviours and to die prematurely. Males also experienced more of their total disease burden due to dying early from disease and injury than from living with disease. The male population is also aging with an increase in percentage of males in older age categories, particularly the 70–74 age group, which has grown by 6.3% since 2006. In comparison, the 0–4 year age group has grown by 0.2% in the same time period. Just a snippet of the health challenges for men can be seen in the following stats:

  • 3 out of 4 men were overweight or obese in 2017-18
  • Males account for more than half (53%) of the disease burden in 2015
  • Fewer than 1 in 30 men ate the recommended amount of vegetables in 2017-18
  • Around 1 in 2 Australian males had 1 or more of the 10 selected chronic conditions in 2017-18
  • 1 out of every 6 men suffers from depression at any given time

Disease Burden

Burden of disease quantifies the health impact of disease on a population in a given year from both living with disease and injury and early death. The summary measure ‘disability-adjusted life years’ (or DALY) measures the years of healthy life lost from death and illness. In 2015, males experienced a greater share of the total disease burden (53%) than females (47%). A larger proportion of the total disease burden for males was from dying prematurely. For females, the greatest proportion was from living with disease.

The top 10 leading causes of disease burden are as follows:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Suicide
  • Back pain
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Lung cancer 
  • Dementia
  • Stroke
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depressive disorders

Chronic Disease

The term ‘chronic condition’ includes a broad range of chronic and complex health conditions across a variety of illnesses. Both communicable and non-communicable diseases can become chronic, however the monitoring of chronic conditions in developed countries focuses primarily on non-communicable disease. Chronic conditions have complex and multiple causes, may affect individuals alone or with other diseases, usually have a gradual onset, occur across the life cycle, compromise quality of life and create limitations and disability and are long-term and persistent.

Chronic conditions pose significant health problems and have a range of potential impacts on individual circumstances. The 10 most common chronic conditions include arthritis, asthma, back problems, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, heart, stroke and vascular disease, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis and mental health conditions.

According to 2017–18 data, around 1 in 2 (46%) males are estimated to have one or more of the 10 selected common chronic conditions. Of these males, 28% have one, 11% have two, and 7.1% have three or more.

The self-reported prevalence of these chronic conditions varies with age:

  • 3 in 4 men aged 65 and over (76%) have at least one chronic condition
  • 2 in 5 men aged 45 and under do (38%).

Lifestyle and Risk Factors

The lifestyle choices a person makes influences how healthy they are and the level of risk they have regarding chronic illness. A lifestyle including physical activity, a well-balanced diet, a safe occupation and maintaining a healthy body weight reduces the risk of poor health. Risk factors such as smoking tobacco, alcohol consumption, using illicit substances or being exposed to violence, increase the likelihood of poor health and early mortality.

Physical Activity

Low levels of physical activity are a major risk factor for chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis. Being physically active improves mental and physical health and helps to reduce other risk factors for disease such as being overweight and obesity, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Physical activity can also be helpful in the management and treatment of a person’s diagnosed chronic conditions by improving symptoms, delaying or halting progression of the condition and reducing the risk of developing other common comorbidities.

Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines outline the minimum amount of physical activity required for health benefits (Department of Health 2019). These recommend that adults aged 18–64:

  • Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1.25 to 2.5 hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week
  • do muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.

For adults aged 65 and over, the Guidelines recommend that older people accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days.

Only 1 in 2 men are sufficiently active. In 2017–18, 50% of men aged 18 and over were sufficiently physically active and 1 in 4 men (25%) did strength or toning activities on 2 or more days. Overall, just under 1 in 5 (17%) were sufficiently physically active and met the muscle strengthening guidelines. As men age, the percentage of them being sufficiently active reduces with 3 in 5 (59%) men aged 18–24 being sufficiently physically active, compared with 3 in 10 (31%) aged 65 and over.


Fruit and vegetables

A balanced diet, including sufficient fruit and vegetables, reduces a person’s risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend, for males, consuming a minimum of 2 servings of fruit and 5 to 6 servings of vegetables each day, depending on age, to ensure good nutrition and health.

According to the 2017–18 Australian Bureau of Statistics data:

  • around half (47%) of men aged 18 and over met the fruit intake guideline
  • 1 in 25 (4.1%) met the vegetable intake guideline
  • less than 1 in 30 (3.0%) met both

Sugar sweetened and diet drinks

Discretionary foods like sugar sweetened and diet drinks are not an essential part of a healthy diet and a limited intake of these is recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Having too much of these drinks too often may lead to adverse health outcomes and increase risk of chronic disease. 

According to the 2017–18 Australian Bureau of Statistics data:

  • 1 in 3 (33%) Australian men drank sugar sweetened drinks at least once a week, and around 1 in 8 (12%) did so daily
  • 1 in 7 men drank diet drinks at least once a week (14%), and around 1 in 20 did so daily (5.5%)

Overweight and obesity

Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many conditions, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnoea and osteoarthritis. Overweight and obesity is among the leading causes of early death and disability in Australia.

Body Mass Index (BMI) and Waist circumference

BMI and waist circumference are two simple tools that can be used to assess the health risk associated with excess body weight. BMI is an internationally recognised standard for classifying overweight and obesity in adults. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres. Differences in body composition may affect the appropriateness of BMI and different BMI cut-off points may need to be considered for certain population groups such as older people, people with high muscle mass and certain ethnic groups.

According to the 2017–18 Australian Bureau of Statistics data:

  • 3 in 4 Australian men (75%) were overweight or obese
  • 2 in 5 (42%) were overweight (but not obese)
  • 3 in 10 (33%) were obese.

Overweight and obesity is more common in older age groups, around 4 in 5 men aged 55–64 were overweight or obese (84%), compared with 1 in 2 men aged 18–24 (52%).

For men, a waist circumference above 94 cm is associated with an increased risk of metabolic complications and a waist circumference above 102cm is associated with substantially increased metabolic risk (WHO 2011). According to 2017–18 data, 3 in 5 (60%) Australian men have a high-risk waist circumference which means that the likelihood of developing and having complications from chronic illness is elevated.

As with BMI, a high-risk waist circumference was more common in older age groups, around 8 in 10 men aged 65–74 (81%) had a high-risk waist circumference, compared with 3 in 10 men aged 18–24 (29%).


If the information above has you thinking about making some lifestyle changes for yourself, a friend, family member or loved one to improve health or manage a current health condition feel free to contact us at Fizzio for Life for some guidance from one of our Exercise Physiologists or Physiotherapists. Also, remember it’s never too late to start working towards better physical and mental health and well-being.