Psychology the key to improving Australia's health

Figures in the Australian Bureau of Statistics' 2008 yearbook show that Australians are living longer, but are more likely to be overweight, or suffer diabetes or another chronic disease.

About 77 per cent of the population reported one or more long-term health conditions, with heart disease ahead of lung disease and stroke. 3.5 per cent of the population suffer from diabetes, 52 per cent are obese or overweight, 10 per cent of suffer with asthma and 25 per cent still smoke.

"It is clear that unless we assist people to change their lifestyles, Australia is headed for a health crisis," says Amanda Gordon, President of the Australian Psychological Society (APS).  "Better use of Australia's psychologists is the key solution to promoting healthier lifestyles."

"There is now strong evidence to show the effectiveness of psychological treatments in changing the behaviour which contributes to the development of chronic disease such as obesity and diabetes," says Gordon.  "For a long time, the APS has emphasised that psychological interventions can greatly assist in the reduction of these health problems, which are a major drain on the economy," says Gordon.

Psychological interventions have been estimated to cost 10-50 per cent less than medical treatment.  A 1983 study of 700 patients with heart disease, hypertension and diabetes receiving psychological services were tracked for a three-year period and compared to a group of 1300 patients who did not receive psychological treatment.  Those patients who received psychological treatment showed a 40 per cent reduction in annual medical costs when compared to patients who were not given psychological services.  Once the cost of psychological intervention was taken into account there was still a 5 per cent net saving.

"What and how much you eat and drink, whether or not you smoke or abuse other substances, how physically active you are, whether or not you manage stress, are all behaviours that are changeable and that's all pure psychology," says Gordon. "If we want people to move to healthier lifestyles to prevent illness, especially the growing number of chronic illnesses, we must address those psychological risk factors."

"No health professionals are better trained to help people change their lifestyle than our psychologists.  APS Psychologists are highly trained to provide primary interventions to protect against obesity and other ‘lifestyle' illnesses. There is an urgent need for proper funding of such services to increase consumer access to the right sort of prevention and treatment," she stated.

The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 15,700 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.

For media enquiries please contact:
Ellise Chapman
Marketing and PR Coordinator
Australian Psychological Society
T: 03 8662 3300

M: 0428 445097