Risk factors

Risk-taking behaviours and normal characteristics of boys and men that can have positive or negative effects on health, growth, and development.

4 min

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Risk factors are things that increase your chances of having a health problem. Some risk factors can’t be changed, but there are others you can do something about.


This webpage:
1. Provides information to help all Australian males understand risk factors
2. Contains a description of what risk factors are, and what they mean for your health
3. Helps people to decide the next steps towards managing their risk factors

What are risk factors?

A risk factor is something that is associated with an increase in the likelihood of having a health problem or disease.

Risk factors can be individual things that are specific to each person (like being male or female) or environmental things that affect lots of people (like exposure to radiation at work, or cultural things like drinking alcohol).

Risk factors can be fixed things that can’t be changed (like genetics), or modifiable things that you change (like where you live or how much money you have).

Some risk factors are behavioural things that you can control (like your diet or activity level), while others are biomedical (like your blood pressure or bone density), which might be affected by your behaviour.

What are some common risk factors?

Different risk factors exist for different health conditions, but some risk factors increase the likelihood of more than one disease. For example, smoking is a risk factor for lots of different cancers, as well as infertility, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia.

About 40% of the poor health of Australian males is attributable to 20 individual risk factors. These risk factors and the proportion of poor health they cause in Australian males are:

Overall, the disease burden caused by these risk factors is one-and-a-half times higher for Australian males than females.

The risk factors that contribute to the poor health of males are different for different ages.

For Australian males aged under 45 years, the risk factors that make the greatest contributions to poor health are the use of alcohol and illicit drugs, child abuse and neglect, occupational exposures and hazards, and overweight/obesity. For older men, smoking, overweight/obesity, diet and high blood pressure are the risk factors that contribute most to disease. 

What to do

Minimising your exposure to risk factors, if you can’t avoid them altogether, is the best thing you can do to avoid developing health problems. Behavioural risk factors are the things you have the most control over, but you can also protect yourself against environmental risk factors and take care of yourself to prevent the development of biomedical risk factors.

Seeing your doctor regularly can help to reduce many risk factors, including common ones that affect most people or ones that are specific to you. Even fixed risk factors can be managed to reduce your chances of getting sick.

Questions to ask your doctor

Risk factors

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