Vitamins, supplements and intelligent ageing

By Miho Kikuchi

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags Complementary medicines Medicine Australia

They say that grey hair is a symbol of wisdom. This is so true as many Australian seniors are now taking a more proactive approach to their own healthcare by doing independent research to stay healthy and active. 

What is more, older Australians are some of the leading consumers of complementary medicines, using these products for preventative health or as an adjunctive therapy to conventional medicine.

Miho Kikuchi

Recent statistics demonstrate that Australia has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, at 82.2 years in 2013. Both men and women are in the top 10 for OCED club of mostly wealthy countries, at 80.1 and 84.3 years respectively. The population of those aged 65 and over is estimated to be 3.7m in 2016 and will more than double to 7.5m in the next 30 years. 

Despite the high life expectancy, in Australia as elsewhere the burden of disease and associated healthcare costs are a big headache for the country. In fact, 87% of people aged over 65 are dealing with chronic disease. Of these, 60% have comorbidity, the most common of which being arthritis and cardiovascular disease. 

In 2013-14, Australia spent a total of A$155bn on health, or A$5,060 per person. This expenditure represents an increase in real terms from A$95bn 10 years ago. 

The complementary medicines industry shares the increasing burden in supporting Australians’ health. Consumer demand for complementary medicines has been consistently strong and the sector is expected to continue to show solid growth in the future, in Australia and internationally. 

For the first time, in 2015, consumers spent more of their out-of-pocket expenses on complementary medicines products than on pharmaceuticals. Not surprisingly, the growing consumer demand for vitamins and supplements is such that they are gaining greater attention from primary healthcare providers and policymakers.

Among Australian users of complementary medicines, multivitamins are the most popular form of supplementation, followed by omega-3, calcium, glucosamine/coenzyme Q10 and vitamin energy blends—all associated with common age-related ailments. It is easy to see where the demand for these popular supplements is coming from. 

Complementary medicines sales are dominated by the older population, with typical users being female and having higher levels of income and education. Reasons to explain the association between education level and complementary medicine use have been posited to include: higher levels of health literacy and access to resources, potential for self-determination, and greater disposable income to spend on healthcare.   

In the Asia-Pacific region, which is already the largest market for complementary medicine products in the world, an ageing population is one of the key factors driving demand. Asia is expected to see the rapid growth of an ageing demographic over the next 50 years, and China alone is expected to be home to 248m people aged 60 and above by 2020. That’s 248m—equivalent to more than 10 times the entire current Australian population.  

The Chinese market for vitamins and dietary supplements reached RMB109bn (US$16.3bn) in 2015, with half of the products available intended for the middle-aged and elderly. 

As is the case in Australia, consumers in Asia have been turning to complementary medicines as part of a proactive approach to healthcare, becoming more confident in self-selection and willing to take preventive measures to support their health.

Asian demand for Australia’s high-quality and high-safety complementary medicines still remains very strong. This ageing health market represents great potential for Australian complementary medicines exporters, and most believe that the export boom for Australian complementary medicines is still in its infancy.

Rather than passively being the subject of constant debate about how society is to provide for their healthcare and pension costs, smart seniors are interested in avoiding rising healthcare costs and are willing to proactively take preventative measures against chronic disease.

  • Miho Kikuchi is a qualified naturopath and works as an industry development associate at Complementary Medicines Australia.

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