ABC 7.30: Australia has a reputation as a healthy nation, with one of the highest life expectancy in the world, but a growing number of Australians are living with chronic illness.

Ben Harris, a health policy expert at Victoria University's Mitchell Institute, crunched the numbers from the latest National Health Survey and discovered that 11.4 million Australians, almost 50 per cent, now have a chronic disease.

"That's up from two in five just 10 years ago," he told ABC 7.30 (Nearly 50 per cent of Australians now have a chronic disease — many of them preventable).

"About a third of chronic disease is preventable, yet we only spend 1.3 per cent of our health budget on preventing disease.

"We need to do better with prevention and managing chronic disease. We need to start treating people, rather than treating diseases."

 Mr Harris said where you live also plays a big part in your health.

"The best thing you can do for your health is be wealthy," he said.

"We know that people with lower socio-economic means are more likely to have health risk factors, and are more likely to die early from chronic disease.

"We know the wealthy communities do a lot better. Not only do they have fewer risk factors, they have less chronic disease and much greater access to health care."

As an example, the Australian Health Tracker data reveals that the obesity rate in Brisbane's upmarket suburbs of Indooroopilly and Taringa is 16 per cent, but in New Chum and Redbank Plains near Ipswich, it is 40.4 per cent.

In Sydney, just 6.6 per cent of people in upper north shore Gordon smoke, whereas in Mount Druitt in the outer western suburbs, it is 31 per cent.

And the divide is even greater for regional Australia.

"We know that people in country Australia are 20 per cent more likely to die before the age of 75 than the people in the city," Mr Harris said.

"What we have in Australia is a universal health system, but it's not necessarily a fair health system."

The growing burden of chronic disease - Health Divide Pt 1 | 7.30