Notes on the data: Health risk factors

Estimated population, aged 15 years and over, consuming alcohol at levels considered to be a high risk to health over their lifetime, 2014-15


Policy context:  Excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality; and the harmful use of alcohol is the world’s third largest risk factor for disease burden [1]. Harmful drinking is a major determinant of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as alcohol use disorders and epilepsy and other noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver and various cancers. The harmful use of alcohol is also associated with several infectious diseases as alcohol consumption weakens the immune system [1].

Excessive alcohol consumption also causes harm beyond the physical and psychological health of the drinker. It can also harm the wellbeing and health of people around the drinker. A significant proportion of the disease burden attributable to harmful drinking arises from unintentional and intentional injuries, including those due to road traffic accidents, violence, and suicides [1]. As a result, alcohol is associated with many serious social and developmental issues, including many forms of violence, child neglect and abuse, and absenteeism in the workplace.

In 2014-15, 16.7% of people aged 15 years and over consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline. Figures for adults aged 18 years and over show a decrease from 2011-12 when 19.5% of adults exceeded the guideline to 2014-15 when 17.4% did so [2].


  1. World Health Organization (WHO). Alcohol - Fact sheet [Internet]. 2011 Feb [cited 2013 Oct 18]. Available from:
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Alcohol consumption. National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Available from:; last accessed 04/12/2016

Notes:  In the absence of data from administrative data sets, estimates are provided for selected health risk factors from the 2014–15 National Health Survey (NHS), conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Estimates at the Population Health Area (PHA) are modelled estimates and produced by the ABS, as described below (estimates at the Local Government Area (LGA) and Primary Health Network (PHN) level were derived from PHA estimates).

Estimates for Quintiles and Remoteness Areas are direct estimates, extracted using the ABS Survey TableBuilder.

Users of these modelled estimates should note that they do not represent data collected in administrative or other data sets. As such, they should be used with caution, and treated as indicative of the likely social dimensions present in an area with these demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.

The numbers are estimates for an area, not measured events as are, for example, death statistics. As such, they should be viewed as a tool that, when used in conjunction with local area knowledge and taking into consideration the prediction reliability, can provide useful information that can assist with decision making for small geographic regions. Of particular note is that the true value of the published estimates is also likely to vary within a range of values as shown by the upper and lower limits published in the data (xls) and viewable in the bar chart in the single map atlases.

What the modelled estimates do achieve, however, is to summarise the various demographic, socioeconomic and administrative information available for an area in a way that indicates the expected level of each health indicator for an area with those characteristics. In the absence of accurate, localised information about the health indicator, such predictions can usefully contribute to policy and program development, service planning and other decision-making processes that require an indication of the geographic distribution of the health indicator.

The survey response rate of around 85% provides a high level of coverage across the population; however, the response rate among some groups is lower than among other groups, e.g., those living in the most disadvantaged areas have a lower response rate than those living in less disadvantaged areas. Although the sample includes the majority of people living in households in private dwellings, it excludes those living in the most remote areas of Australia; whereas these areas comprise less than 3% of the total population, Aboriginal people comprise up to one third of the population in these areas. This and other limitations of the method mean that estimates have not been published for PHAs with populations under 1,000, or with a high proportion of their population in:

  1. non-private dwellings (hospitals, gaols, nursing homes - and also excludes members of the armed forces);
  2. in very remote areas or in discrete Aboriginal communities, as determined by the ABS; and
  3. where the relative root mean square errors (RRMSEs) on the estimates was 1 or more (estimate replaced with ≠)


  1. Estimates with RRMSEs from 0.25 and to 0.50 have been marked (~) to indicate that they should be used with caution; and those greater than 0.50 but less than 1 are marked (~~) to indicate that the estimate is considered too unreliable for general use.
  2. For the Primary Health Network (PHN) data, differences between the PHN totals and the sum of LGAs within PHNs result from the use of different concordances.

Indicator detail

The data presented here use a different definition from that used in the estimates, previously published, for 2011-12.


Definition used for the 2014-15 data:  The National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines for lifetime risk state that, for healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. The data are for people aged 15 years and over.


Definition used for the 2011-12 data:  These data related to alcohol consumption in the previous week, which would be a high risk to health if continued, using the alcohol level 7-day average to determine ‘high risk’ as defined in the 2001 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines. The data were for people aged 18 years and over.


Geography: Data available by Population Health Area, Local Government Area, Primary Health Network, Quintiles and Remoteness Areas

Numerator:  Estimated population aged 15 years and over who consumed more than two standard alcoholic drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk 2009 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guideline


Denominator:  Total population aged 15 years and over


Detail of analysis:  Indirectly age-standardised rate per 100 population (aged 15 years and over); and/or indirectly age-standardised ratio, based on the Australian standard



PHA, LGA & PHN: Compiled by PHIDU based on modelled estimates from the 2014-15 National Health Survey, ABS (unpublished).

Quintiles & Remoteness: Compiled by PHIDU based on direct estimates from the 2014-15 National Health Survey, ABS Survey TableBuilder.


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