Yesterday I posted the below picture to Twitter, exclaiming that showed the dire state of Australia’s health when compared to the rest of the world. Since then I’ve had several people point out the correlation between the countries suffering from high cancer incident rates: they’re nearly all developed nations who have a decent healthcare system. The theory then goes that these figures are somewhat meaningless as lower incidents of cancer typically means people aren’t living long enough to get it. Whilst I agree that this is true to some extent it’s unfortunately not as simple as that and some new research I came across today could point to something that shows why Australia’s incident rate is so high.
Now this graphic, whilst giving you a great overview, is unfortunately a rather blunt instrument for validating the theory that better health care = longer lives = higher cancer incident rate. Primarily this is because of its resolution which makes it hard to pick out the smaller countries, specifically the developed ones that have low rates of cancer. Singapore for instance has the lowest rate out of many countries with a per capita income that ranks in the top ten of the world. Similarly Japan, whilst not being the anomaly that Singapore seems to be, has a rate that’s dramatically lower than Australia (about 70 per 100,000) with a population that’s aging and is almost 6 times the size.
Initially I was going to make a point about skin cancer as Australia is a well known offender with our incident rate for melanoma around 90 per 100,000. Surprisingly New Zealand is not too far behind in this regard and the drop after that is quite incredible with the next closest competitor being Norway with an incident rate that’s almost half of anywhere else. That leads me to believe it’s somewhat cultural as whilst we like to blame the hole in the ozone layer it’s actually anything but since its reach doesn’t extend up to our continent. Since this kind of cancer is almost entirely preventable I felt the need to rant at Australians who are knowingly killing themselves but there might be an even wider issue that could have a far greater impact on this.
Obesity is a major issue for a lot of western developed countries and if you overlay the graphs from here with the one shown above it’s hard to deny the strong correlation between the two. Indeed whilst the level of healthcare and wealth might be a good predictor for the incident rate of cancer in a country obesity is a much better predictor and the links between obesity and certain types of cancer is well known. The same argument against wealth also works for obesity (people don’t get as fat in poor countries) however this is, again, a preventable risk factor for cancer. Combining these two factors together and you have a recipe for Australia being a hot bed for cancer, one that it needn’t be at all.
The good news is that, should you want to avoid the major risk factors for getting cancer in Australia, you can do that without a meaningful impact on your life. It might be time for the government to resurrect the campaigns of decades past, albeit with an additional message to watch your weight as well as your exposure to the sun. They had an impact, I can still remember the jingle like I heard it yesterday, and it’s prime time to get the next generation of Australians thinking about their long term health.