Authors: Yuejen Zhao1 , Shu Qin Li1 , Tom Wilson2 , C Paul Burgess1

  1. Northern Territory Department of Health, Darwin, NT.
  2. The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC

The following is a summary of a research project by the authors. For more information, please see the published full-text journal article: Zhao, Y., Li, S. Q., Wilson, T., & Burgess, C. P. (2022). Improved life expectancy for Indigenous and non‐Indigenous people in the Northern Territory, 1999–2018: overall and by underlying cause of death. Medical journal of Australia.

Researchers finds improvements in Indigenous life expectancy in the Northern Territory driven by cancer control and injury interventions, but Indigenous / non-Indigenous life expectancy gaps remain substantial and at the current rate of improvement a further 60 years will be required to eliminate the life expectancy gap.

Research led by Dr Yuejen Zhao, from the Department of Health in the Northern Territory found Indigenous life expectancy increased from 56.6 years in 1999 to 65.6 in 2018 for males, and from 64.8 to 69.7 years for females. Between 1999 to 2018, Northern Territory Indigenous / non-Indigenous life expectancy gap closed by 26% in males and 21% in females. Declines in mortality from cancer, unintentional injury and cardiovascular disease contributed 23%, 18% and 17%, respectively, to life expectancy improvement in Indigenous males. Lower mortality from cancer, intentional injury and kidney disease contributed to 24%, 17% and 14%, respectively to the improvement life expectancy in Indigenous females. Non-Indigenous life expectancy improved more slowly by 3.6 years in males and 0.8 years in females. Cancer and neurological conditions contributed over half of the improvements in non-Indigenous population. Cardiovascular disease intervention improved life expectancy positively in males more than females, especially for the Indigenous population. The researchers used underlying and multiple causes of death and population data with key demographic variables (age, sex and Indigenous status) from the Northern Territory over the past 20 years. Trend analysis was conducted using period life tables along with cause decomposition for life expectancy improvements. Causes of death were classified according to the Australian standard burden of disease and injury categories. Years of life lost were measured by life expectancy at the age of death. This study uncovers new insights on the extent and drivers of the life expectancy improvements over different periods of time, and show targeted health policies have the potentials to reduce the Indigenous / non-Indigenous life expectancy gap in the Northern Territory.

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