What the 45 and Up Study showed us in 2021

From the risks of light smoking to the health impacts of divorce, researchers have used the 45 and Up Study’s wealth of data to explore pressing health issues this year. Here are some of the highlights from 2021 so far:

Cancer risk increases with every cigarette, even for light smokers

While we all know the dangers of heavy smoking, there is less evidence globally on the impact of light smoking. An Australia first study conducted by The Daffodil Centre this year has revealed what kind of cancer risks are at stake for even the most casual of smokers.

Drawing on long-term data from participants of the 45 and Up Study, researchers found that tobacco smoking significantly increased the risk of 12 types of cancer and that 1-in-7 current smokers will get lung cancer in their lifetime.

The study found that compared to people who had never smoked, people who smoked 1–5 cigarettes per day were 9.22 times as likely to develop lung cancer, and 38.6 times as likely if they smoked more than 35 cigarettes per day. Read more

Divorce and widowhood have an impact on health

New research from the University of Sydney looked at a subset of 30,000 people from the 45 and Up Study who were reported to be married or cohabiting at the beginning of the Study’s enrolment in 2006, and followed them over time.

Some of these participants later became divorced or widowed, and the researchers tracked their physical and mental health alongside those who remained married.

The findings revealed strong short-term effects of divorce – and to a lesser degree of widowhood – particularly on mental health (stress, anxiety and depression), but also on smoking rates and quality of life. However, five years on from the event, these effects seem to attenuate and in some cases disappear. Read more

Gender makes a difference in preventive treatment after heart attack

New research revealed a gender gap in the use of medication after a heart attack or stroke, with women much less likely to be taking the preventive medication that could benefit their health.

Researchers from the Australian National University used 45 and Up Study data to analyse over 8,000 Australian men and women who had been admitted to hospital for a heart attack or stroke.

Three months after hospital discharge, women were 9% less likely than men to be using the advised blood-pressure- and lipid-lowering medications. Furthermore, women were 19% more likely not be taking any CVD preventive medication at all. Read more

Socially-connected neighbourhoods linked to better mental health for immigrants

Helping immigrants settle into well-integrated neighbourhoods may decrease mental health issues, according to a study conducted by the Centre for Mental Health Research, at the Australian National University.

After analysing data from a subset of 228,000 participants of the 45 and Up Study, researchers found that immigrants were 17% more likely to experience psychological distress compared to non-immigrants. Living in fragmented or socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhoods was also linked with poorer mental health – regardless of immigrant status. However, immigrants to Australia with English as a second language or a low annual income were most likely to suffer from mental health problems. Read more

Gender and diet can affect the risk of frailty

Frailty is a debilitating medical condition associated with reduced muscle strength, fatigue, weakness and cognitive decline. It brings with it an increased risk of injury and many sufferers need help with basic daily tasks.

After analysing the dietary patterns of 113,000 Australian over the age of 50 who were participating in the 45 and Up Study, researchers from the University of NSW and the University of Technology Sydney found that women in particular are making poorer food choices that could put them at risk of frailty.

They found that men have better dietary behaviour as they age, while women’s diets get worse over time. These changes in diet affect the odds of frailty, with results showing that females were more likely to suffer from frailty than men – particularly women over the age of 80 who were widowed, with low education levels and from low socioeconomic areas. Read more

Smoking and mortality in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Research using data from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study found smoking causes around half of deaths in older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, a significantly higher figure than previous estimates. Quitting at any age has substantial benefits, and those who quit before the age of 45 have mortality risks similar to never-smokers. Read more

Suicide rates in older people

Research using data from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study shows older people who are unable to work due to being sick, disabled or being a primary carer have double the risk of attempted suicide compared with those in work. Programs that facilitate continued employment or re-employment in older age could be of benefit. Read more

What’s next for the 45 and Up Study?

2022 is set to be another big year for the Study, with a new round of COVID survey data being made available to researchers in early 2022. If you’d like to stay up-to-date on the Study, join the 45 and Up facebook community, sign up for our newsletter or explore more of the research here.