National Women's Health Policy

Lifestyle risk factors

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

These diseases are often associated with genetic factors and other common, modifiable lifestyle risks, including obesity, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, tobacco smoking, risky alcohol consumption, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The Australian Government has made addressing these lifestyle risks a priority.

To do so requires understanding them in the context of the lives of Australian men and women, including the barriers that prevent people taking up healthier lifestyles. Women and men share some experiences in relation to these risk factors, but there are also significant gender differences. Various social changes have affected women’s experiences in recent decades have had many positive benefits for women, but may also be associated with an increase in higher-risk behaviours, such as binge drinking and smoking. Additionally, as more women participate in paid employment they now find they have less time for healthpromoting activities, such as physical activity and healthy eating. This is compounded by full-time working women spending much more of their time doing housework and looking after children than full-time working men.86

Many diseases (especially lifestyle-related diseases) have in common certain risk factors, and these are closely tied to socioeconomic status. Women living on a lower income are typically more likely to be unemployed, under-educated and to have fewer social networks, which may in turn limit their ability to engage in healthy behaviours. Disadvantaged women are more likely to have a higher rate of health risk factors, such as being overweight or obese, having fewer or no daily serves of fruit, and smoking tobacco.87

There is a need to look at how women can be supported to reduce their exposure to risk factors for chronic disease. This needs to be done in the context of the pressures they face in their everyday lives.