Life expectancy gaps for Northern Territory Aboriginal women are closing yet widening for men, a new study has found.
The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, found that between 1967 and 2012 the difference in life expectancies for NT Aboriginal women and the wider Australian population declined by 4.6 years.
But the news wasn’t so good for Aboriginal men in the Top End – the gap rose by one year.
The study, by a team from the NT Department of Health, Menzies School of Health Research and the Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University, found that NT Aboriginal people and all Australians could now expect to live longer.
Reduced infant mortality rates had seen big jumps in life expectancy for Aboriginal people, but differences in life expectancies now came into play in the 35-74-year age groups, it said.
The higher mortality of NT Aboriginal people in that age bracket now accounted for 73 percent of the difference in the life expectancy between NT Aboriginal people and all Australians.
The study said if the life expectancy of Aboriginal people was to keep improving, socio-economic disadvantage had to be reduced.
“Socio-economic disadvantage and health needs must be tackled together,” it said.
The life expectancy for Aboriginal men in the NT from 2008-2012 was 63.6 years compared to 80 years for all Australian men.
Aboriginal women in the NT had a life expectancy of 68.4 years compared to 84.5 years for the rest of Australia’s female population.
“During 1967–2012, the predominant causes of death of Aboriginal people shifted from maternal, perinatal and infectious diseases to chronic diseases,” the study said.
“A transition in nutrition from childhood malnourishment and stunting to overeating (often of food high in calories but of poor nutritional quality) is likely to have contributed to the increased prevalence of chronic diseases.
“A concurrent factor is socio-economic disadvantage, the major factor underlying the persisting life expectancy gap in the NT, contributing as much as half of the difference between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations.”