Australia Talks survey shows impact of COVID-19 on our physical, mental health and current national priorities

Jeremy Lasek

All avid ABC watchers and listeners will know the results of one of this nation’s biggest surveys – Australia Talks – are now in.

In many ways, the survey of 60,000 Australians is a broad-ranging check on the collective health and attitude of our nation. While it doesn’t monitor our blood pressure, the number and type of cancer cases, or how often we get the common cold, Australia Talks invites participants to create a better understanding of modern life in Australia by asking questions about the attitudes, behaviours and experiences of people from all walks of life.

The first Australia Talks national survey was conducted in July 2019, while the latest took place exactly 12 months after the declaration of a global pandemic, in March 2021. This timing will certainly have affected many responses. The surveys protect the anonymity of the participants but still provide many valuable insights into the current pulse of the nation.

The rest of us are now invited to use an online tool, which allows us to answer a selection of questions from the national survey, and then receive a personalised breakdown, allowing us to compare our responses with the national survey results. It’s about a 10-minute exercise, it’s both fun and very interesting. I had a crack at it over the long weekend and encourage others to do the same.

How my results compare

The survey is incredibly broad in the themes and topics it covers. I’ve selected those of greatest relevance to those working in public health, and steered cleared of the more trivial, though nonetheless interesting, such as how often I change my bed sheets. So, in my top 10, here’s how I stack up – and more importantly how those 60,000 others responded – to the 2021 Australia Talks survey.

  1. Losing weight

I find myself amongst the 60% of Australians surveyed who said they’re trying to lose weight this year. Aussies under 25, and those under 65, are least likely to be trying to lose weight, while those in their 40s are most likely to say they are.

  1. Keeping fit

Having joined a gym during the pandemic, I find myself amongst the 22% of people who haven’t let the coronavirus get in the way of their health and fitness goals. However, one-third of Australians say their health has suffered. Unsurprisingly, given their epic lockdown last year, Victorians are the most likely to say their health and fitness has taken a hit since the pandemic started.

  1. Mental health

On this one, I am absolutely in the minority. I am amongst the one in 10 who say their mental health is better now than before COVID-19. I put this down to a combination of improved work-life balance and that gym membership. According to the survey results, young adults in particular are more likely to say their mental health is worse now than before the pandemic.

  1. Impact of technology

As a mobile phone/social media addict, I found myself among 75% of respondents who believe technology does more harm than good for our mental health. According to the survey, technology impacts on so much of our lives: sleep (89%), mental health (75%), teens (71%), children (61%), social cohesion (60%), sex (58%), politics (58%) and interpersonal relationships (54%).

  1. Feeling anxious

This question marked the biggest jump since the 2019 Australia Talks survey and given the impact of the pandemic on our lives it’s no surprise so many said they felt anxious ‘frequently’. For the record, my response was ‘occasionally’ given the impact of COVID lockdowns on my family, both here and overseas. Again, younger people were much more likely to report feeling anxious.

  1. Organ donation

It’s pleasing to know I’m amongst the four in five Aussies who say they’d donate their organs when they die. It’s a clear majority too, with 67% saying they’re very likely, and 14% saying they’re somewhat likely. But it’s worrying that just one in three people have actually registered as organ donors. If you’d like to sign up, but haven’t yet, you can register online here

  1. Climate change

In general, Australians think we’re doing poorly at tackling climate change and I find myself amongst 64% of people of my age who believe that. An even higher percentage of people say we need to do better at holding politicians to account, dealing with housing affordability, and supporting people in poverty.

  1. Supporting the unemployed

Overall, 65% of Australians, me included, think unemployment payments should be higher, Conservative-leaning voters are more likely to say they’re ‘about right’ where they are, while left-leaning voters want to see a further increase.

  1. Supporting people with disabilities

About 80% of people, me included, agreed with the question, ‘should we spend whatever is needed to give people with disabilities equal opportunities?’ Of those, 50% strongly agree. Women are more likely than men to agree with the statement.

  1. Supporting our elderly

Like most men, I believe Australia is lacking when it comes to respecting and taking care of our elderly. Overall, 65% of us don’t think Australia is doing a good job taking care of our older citizens – and women are much more likely than men to hold that view.

Other results in brief

The survey also looks at how optimistic we are about Australia’s future (overall we are pretty upbeat) and the future of the world (where we don’t think things look too rosy).

Nearly half of Australians are now doing some work from home, compared to almost zero in 2019, and it appears ‘WFH’ is here to stay.

Fewer people (41% in 2021, compared to 47% in 2019) believe it’s acceptable to smack a child as a form of discipline.

There’s been a large jump in the proportion of Aussies (55%) who believe Australia Day should not be celebrated on 26 January, but 33% don’t want to see it moved.

A total of 57% of Australians know who the traditional owners are where they live, and two-thirds of people think an Indigenous Voice to Parliament should be enshrined in the Constitution.

Trust is clearly a big problem right now. 94% of survey respondents consider misinformation a problem for Australia, 79% think it’s harder to know who to trust these days, and nearly nine in ten people say Australia needs a federal corruption watchdog.

Let’s finish on a high note – the vast majority of Aussies like our bosses and 76% of us are happy (me too on both counts).

The major findings from the Australia Talks survey will be revealed in a special TV event at 8pm on Monday 21 June 2021, on ABC-TV.


Australia Talks is a research-based initiative developed by the ABC, in collaboration with social and data scientists from Vox Pop Labs. The University of Melbourne is the Australian academic partner on the project.



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