Australians live longer, healthier lives than people in almost every other country, according to a major international study.

Data to be released in Melbourne on Thursday shows life expectancy increased for both men and women in Australia from 1990 to 2010.

Australia ranks 5th out of 187 countries, with only people in Japan, Andorra, Iceland and Switzerland living longer.

A big risk, however, is that too many people are eating, drinking and drugging themselves to death.

On average, a newborn girl in Australia can expect to live 83.8 years and a boy 79.2 years.

In 1990 Australian women on average lived to be 80 and men died younger than 74.

Men rank fifth in terms of healthy life expectancy and women rank 10th. Australians enjoy more healthy years than Americans, Britons and New Zealanders.

The Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) 2010 study is a collaborative project led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle. The University of Melbourne is a key research partner.

Melbourne's Professor Alan Lopez co-founded the GBD study in 1990 and has played a lead role since then.

He says Australians have enjoyed significantly improved health from 1990 to 2010.

"We can thank two decades of campaigns by state and federal governments for driving down deaths from road injury, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and tobacco."

Obesity has surpassed smoking as a risk factor.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability for Australians, with poor diet being the biggest risk factor.

Lung cancer and stroke are next on the list and drug abuse, depression and Alzheimer's disease are on the rise.

Alzheimer's disease has increased from 26th place in 1990 to ninth in 2010 as a cause of premature death.

"Australia clearly has much to be proud of," says IHME director and GBD co-founder Dr Christopher Murray.

However, the number of years of health loss due to obesity, alcohol and drug use are increasing.

"In particular, Australians are grappling with soaring rates of obesity due to poor diet and physical inactivity," he says.

Other concerns are high blood sugar and cholesterol.

"Policy makers and health experts must focus on the remaining threats to health," he says.

 

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