A cornerstone of health promotion and disease prevention is ensuring healthy environments and supporting healthy lifestyles. Prevention efforts occur across a continuum:

  • Primordial prevention targets sociocultural conditions to avoid a risk factor from developing.
  • Primary prevention focuses on modifying existing risk factors to prevent disease.
  • Secondary prevention is based on early detection and intervention to improve outcomes.
  • Tertiary prevention reduces the severity of existing disease, avoids further complications, or prevents other health conditions from developing.

For each risk factors, the impact on disease burden is summarised. More information about the relationship between risk factors and health burden is in the Burden of Disease section of this report.

Valuing prevention

Improving modifiable risk factors benefits health and wellbeing and plays a role in healthcare sustainability. Over a third (38%) of the nation health burden was attributable to risk factors in 2018.1

Public health intervention cost-effectiveness evidence is growing—in the UK, 75% of public health interventions from 2005 to 2018 are cost-effective.2 In addition to the return on the original investment, a $1 investment in public health generates $14 in return back to the wider health and social economy.3 Despite this, only 3.6% of total healthcare expenditure was spent on prevention in 2020–21. This is up from 1.5% in 2018–19 with the increase driven primarily by COVID-19 public health spending.4


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2021. Australian Burden of Disease Study 2018: Interactive data on risk factor burdenAustralian Burden of Disease Study 2018: Interactive data on risk factor burden. Accessed: 31 October 2022.
  2. Owen L. & Fischer A. 2019. The cost-effectiveness of public health interventions examined by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence from 2005 to 2018Public Health. 169: 151–162. doi: doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2019.02.011.
  3. Masters R., Anwar E., Collins B., Cookson R. & Capewell S. 2017. Return on investment of public health interventions: a systematic reviewJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 71(8): 827–834. doi: 10.1136/jech-2016-208141.
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2022. Health expenditureHealth expenditure. Accessed: 10 January 2023.

Last updated: March 2023