Health and wellbeing of Indigenous adolescents in Australia: a systematic synthesis of population data

Peter S. Azzopardi, Susan M. Sawyer, John B. Carlin, Louisa Degenhardt, Ngiare Brown, Alex D. Brown, George C. Patton

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81 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Indigenous populations have high rates of disease and premature mortality. Most Indigenous communities are young, and adolescence (age 10–24 years) provides great opportunities for population health gain. However, the absence of a comprehensive account of Indigenous adolescents' health has been a barrier to effective policy. We aimed to report a national health profile for Indigenous adolescents in Australia. Methods: We undertook a systematic synthesis of population data to report the health and wellbeing of Indigenous adolescents in Australia. A reporting framework for Indigenous adolescent health in Australia was defined to measure health outcomes, health risks, and sociocultural determinants. Available data (primary data from national surveys and administrative datasets, and available published data) were mapped against the defined reporting framework, and the quality graded, with the highest quality data selected to report a health profile for Indigenous adolescents. Comparison with non-Indigenous adolescents was made where possible, and estimates (disaggregated by age, sex, and remoteness) were reported as relative risks. A national advisory group (six Indigenous young people, three Indigenous adult community members, three researchers, three policy makers, and two service providers, all aged ≥16 years) provided input about the reporting framework, interpretation of findings, and policy recommendations. Findings: Data were available for 184 (79%) of 234 elements of the reporting framework. All-cause mortality for Indigenous adolescents (70 per 100 000) was more than twice that of non-Indigenous adolescents, with about 60% of deaths due to intentional self-harm and road traffic injury. 80% of all deaths among Indigenous adolescents were considered as potentially avoidable in the current health system. Communicable diseases (particularly sexually transmitted infections) were leading contributors to morbidity. Almost a third of Indigenous adolescents aged 18–24 years reported high levels of psychological distress (twice the non-Indigenous rate). There was an excess burden of mental disorders and substance use, alongside emerging type 2 diabetes and ischaemic heart disease. Additionally, there were excess intentional and unintentional injuries. Many aspects of this health profile differed markedly from that of non-Indigenous adolescents: rates of acute rheumatic fever, pneumococcal infection, gonorrhoea, and type 2 diabetes resulting in admission to hospital were ten times higher; rates of assault and childbirth in those aged 15–19 years were five times higher; whereas rates of eating disorders, melanoma and other skin cancers, and anaphylaxis were significantly lower. Risks for future ill-health were common; 43% of 15–24 year olds were current tobacco smokers and about 45% had high body mass (overweight or obese). Disadvantage across sociocultural health determinants also emerged, particularly around education. Interpretation: Despite Australia's adolescents having one of the best health profiles globally, Indigenous adolescents have largely been left behind. Adequate responses will require intersectoral actions, including a health system responsive to the needs of Indigenous adolescents. Without a specific focus on adolescents, Australia will not redress Indigenous health inequalities. Funding: Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council, Sidney Myer Foundation, and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)766-782
Number of pages17
JournalThe Lancet
Issue number10122
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 24 Feb 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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