Governments must tackle the underlying social determinants of health to help achieve health equity and fight the growing problem of people living with diabetes in Australia, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has told a parliamentary inquiry.

The AMA’s submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport’s Inquiry into Diabetes in Australia stated that health was shaped by the social, economic, cultural and environmental conditions a person lives under, and to achieve health equity, governments must focus not only on treating disease and modifying risk factors, but also on tackling the underlying social determinants of health.

“We need a determined effort by the Australian government to address the inequalities in our society which give rise to unequal health outcomes for all Australians,” the submission stated.

“This includes systemic inequities that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, resulting in disproportionately high levels of diabetes, with almost eight per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with the condition. This very often leads to chronic kidney disease.

“Health outcomes relating to diabetes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, could be improved with better investment in prevention and early detection programs”.

The AMA’s submission also suggested that taxing the sugar in soft drinks was one example of a measure that could help address the growing costs to the health system of more than 1.3 million Australians living with diabetes.

Two in three adults, and one in four children are living with overweight or obesity, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease,
cancer and other chronic diseases.

The submission stated health data showed that preventable diseases resulting from people being overweight and/or obese accounts for 18 per cent of health spending ($4.3 billion).

AMA President Professor Steve Robson said preventive health measures not only saved lives, but also took pressure off the health system in the long term.

“The AMA would like to see all levels of government do more with preventive health policies that lead to positive health outcomes and save the economy money,” he said.