Background: Recent estimates suggest that high body mass index (BMI), smoking, high blood pressure (BP) and physical inactivity are leading risk factors for the overall burden of disease in Australia. The aim was to examine the population attributable risk (PAR) of heart disease for each of these risk factors, across the adult lifespan in Australian women.
Methods: PARs were estimated using relative risks (RRs) for each of the four risk factors, as used in the Global Burden of Disease Study, and prevalence estimates from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, in 15 age groups from 22-27 (N=9608) to 85-90 (N=3901).
Results: RRs and prevalence estimates varied across the lifespan. RRs ranged from 6.15 for smoking in the younger women to 1.20 for high BMI and high BP in the older women. Prevalence of risk exposure ranged from 2% for high BP in the younger women to 79% for high BMI in mid-age women. In young adult women up to age 30, the highest population risk was attributed to smoking. From age 31 to 90, PARs were highest for physical inactivity.
Conclusions: From about age 30, the population risk of heart disease attributable to inactivity outweighs that of other risk factors, including high BMI. Programmes for the promotion and maintenance of physical activity deserve to be a much higher public health priority for women than they are now, across the adult lifespan.