An overview of the results of the Australian Burden of Disease (ABD) study is presented. The ABD study was the first to use methodology developed for the Global Burden of Disease study to measure the burden of disease and injury in a developed country. In 1996, mental disorders were the main causes of disability burden, responsible for nearly 30% of total years of life lost to disability (YLD), with depression accounting for 8% of the total YLD. Ischaemic heart disease and stroke were the main contributors to the disease burden disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), together causing nearly 18% of the total disease burden. Risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, hypertension, high blood cholesterol, obesity and inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption were responsible for much of the overall disease burden in Australia. The lessons learnt from the ABD study are discussed, together with methodological issues that require further attention.