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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin Alcohol and other drugs knowledge centre Yarning Places
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spacing1What do we know about respiratory health among Indigenous people?

The respiratory system includes all the parts of the body involved with breathing, including the nose, throat, larynx (voice box), trachea (windpipe), and lungs [1]. Respiratory disease occurs if any of these parts of the body are damaged or diseased and breathing is affected. Common types of respiratory disease include colds and similar viral infections, asthma, and pneumonia.

Risk factors for respiratory disease include: infections, smoking (including passive smoking, which is particularly bad for children), poor environmental conditions (especially areas that are dusty or have lots of pollen or pollution), poor living conditions, and other diseases (like diabetes, heart and kidney disease) [1].

Respiratory disease was reported by around one-third of Indigenous people in the 2012-2013 AATSIHS [2]. Respiratory problems were reported more often by Indigenous women than Indigenous men. Asthma (the respiratory condition most often reported by Indigenous people) was nearly twice as common for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people.

In 2012-13, Indigenous people were four times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be admitted into hospital for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, three times higher for influenza and pneumonia, and nearly twice as high for asthma [3].

In 2012, respiratory disease was the cause of 8% of Indigenous deaths in NSW, Qld, SA, WA and the NT. Indigenous people were more than twice as likely as non-Indigenous people to die from a respiratory disease [4].


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2010) Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other respiratory diseases in Australia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health survey: first results, Australia, 2012-13: Table 5 [data cube]. Retrieved 27 November 2013 from,%202012-13%20-%20australia.xls&4727.0.55.001&Data%20Cubes&5C97CE7DA7059C06CA257C2F00145D5A&0&2012-13&27.11.2013&Latest
  3. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (2014) Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2014. Canberra: Productivity Commission
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014) Causes of death, Australia, 2012. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics
Last updated: 17 June 2015
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