Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Impact of behavioural risk factors on death within 10 years for women and men in their 70s: absolute risk charts

Annette Dobson19*, Deirdre McLaughlin1, Osvaldo Almeida234, Wendy Brown5, Julie Byles6, Leon Flicker27, Janni Leung1, Derrick Lopez2, Kieran McCaul2 and Graeme J Hankey78

Author Affiliations

1 The University of Queensland, School of Population Health, Herston, Australia

2 Western Australian Centre for Health & Ageing, CMR, Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, Perth, Australia

3 School of Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

4 Department of Psychiatry, Royal Perth Hospital, Perth, Australia

5 The University of Queensland, School of Human Movement Studies, St Lucia, Australia

6 The University of Newcastle, Centre for Gender, Health and Ageing, Newcastle, Australia

7 School of Medicine and Pharmacology, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

8 Stroke Unit, Department of Neurology, Royal Perth Hospital, Perth, Australia

9 The University of Queensland, School of Population Health, Herston Road, Herston, Queensland 4006, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:669  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-669

Published: 17 August 2012



Estimates of the absolute risk of death based on the combined effects of sex, age and health behaviours are scarce for elderly people. The aim of this paper is to calculate population based estimates and display them using simple charts that may be useful communication tools for public health authorities, health care providers and policy makers.


Data were drawn from two concurrent prospective observational cohort studies of community-based older Australian women (N = 7,438) and men (N = 6,053) aged 71 to 79. The outcome measure was death within ten years. The predictor variables were: sex, age, smoking status, alcohol consumption, body mass index and physical activity.


Patterns of risks were similar in men and women but absolute risk of death was between 9 percentage points higher in men (17 %) than in women (8 %) in the lowest risk group (aged 71–73 years, never smoked, overweight, physically active and consumed alcohol weekly) and 21 % higher in men (73-74 %) than women (51-52 %) in the highest risk group (aged 77–79 years, normal weight or obese, current smoker, physically inactive and drink alcohol less than weekly).


These absolute risk charts provide a tool for understanding the combined effects of behavioural risk factors for death among older people.

Mortality; Risk factors; Men; Women