Objectives: To examine recent changes in the cardiovascular risk factor profile of Australian adults and to compare these with trends in mortality.
Design: Questionnaire and examination data collected from multicentre cross-sectional surveys conducted in 1980, 1983 and 1989.
Subjects: 19,315 randomly selected respondents aged 25-64 years living in the six State capital cities.
Results: During the 1980s, average blood pressure levels declined in all age groups and for both men and women. The prevalence of hypertension decreased and it appeared to be more effectively managed. Total cholesterol levels decreased significantly in younger men and older women but lipid results showed no overall favourable trend. Weight for height increased in all ages, strongly suggesting increased body fatness. In women, the odds of being overweight or obese increased by 58%, and in men by 23%. The prevalence of smoking declined significantly in men and women. Cessation of smoking and decreased uptake both contributed to the decline in men, while smoking cessation was more important in women. Consumption of alcohol declined significantly in both sexes. Adding salt to food became less common, as did eating the fat on meat. Walking for recreation or exercise and other forms of less vigorous exercise became more popular, while the prevalence of aerobic exercise and vigorous exercise remained unchanged.
Conclusions: Reductions in cigarette smoking and blood pressure are likely to have contributed to the falls that have been noted in cardiovascular mortality rate. Changes in dietary behaviour were consistent with health education messages. The trend towards greater body fatness may retard the benefits of favourable trends in other cardiovascular risk factors, morbidity and mortality and requires greater attention.