Life expectancy for Indigenous Australians has increased by as much as nine years in the past two decades, but still lags significantly behind the wider population, according to new research.

Northern Territory Department of Health and University of Melbourne-led report published online in the Medical Journal of Australia last Monday sought to uncover trends in life expectancy and underlying causes of death in indigenous and non-indigenous populations from 1999-2018.

It found during this period life expectancy for indigenous men increased from 56.6 years to 65.6, while increasing 64.8 years to 69.7 years for indigenous women.

These improvements were associated with decreases in lives lost to cancer, cardiovascular and kidney diseases, and unintentional injuries.

While noting progress, it still falls below the life expectancy improvements of non-indigenous Australians which increased from 77.4 years to 81.0 for men and 84.3 years to 85.1 years for women.

In a joint response to the report, University of New South Wales research fellow Ian Ring and Yawuru woman Kalinda Griffiths said without reform it would take 60 years to end life expectancy disparity.

“Progress has been sluggish… broader social and economic problems –including housing, education, and interactions with the justice system – require much more attention,” they said.

“Closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous people and other Australians is not a utopian dream, but an achievable aim.”

Mental health care and social determinants remain challenges for indigenous populations, evidenced through rising suicide rates, according to the report.

  • Story by James Italia-Prasad