What are the major drivers of prevalent disability burden in young Australians?

Rebecca R S Mathews, Wayne D Hall, Theo Vos, George C Patton and Louisa Degenhardt
Med J Aust 2011; 194 (5): 232-235.


Objective: To examine age and sex differences in the leading causes of prevalent disability in young Australians.

Design, setting and participants: We analysed data from the 2003 Australian Burden of Disease and Injury Study, which estimated the prevalent disability burden attributable to 170 diseases and injuries, for younger adolescents (10–14 years), older adolescents (15–19 years) and young adults (20–24 years).

Main outcome measures: The broad categories of disease and injury that are the main contributors to prevalent disability and the 10 leading disease and injury causes of prevalent disability, according to sex and age group.

Results: Total prevalent disability rates are lowest in younger adolescents and highest in young adults. Mental disorders are the largest “contributor” to disability in young Australians, and anxiety and depressive disorders are the leading single cause. In young males, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder cause similar levels of disability as do anxiety and depression. In young females, eating disorders are the second leading cause of mental disorder disability. Alcohol use disorders and schizophrenia make important contributions to disability in young adult males. Asthma is the most prominent cause of physical disability in all three age groups.

Conclusions: There are substantial changes in both the pattern and level of disability burden across the three age groups that we studied. The increase in total prevalent disability that occurs from early adolescence to young adulthood should focus attention on the delivery of accessible and youth friendly health care as well as the effectiveness of transitions from child health services to adult health services.

  • Rebecca R S Mathews1
  • Wayne D Hall1
  • Theo Vos2
  • George C Patton3
  • Louisa Degenhardt4

  • 1 Centre for Clinical Research, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD.
  • 2 Centre for Burden of Disease and Cost-Effectiveness, School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD.
  • 3 Centre for Adolescent Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 4 Burnet Institute, Melbourne, VIC.


Competing interests:

None identified.

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