Recently it was NAIDOC week and it presents a good opportunity to raise awareness about the nutrition related challenges facing Indigenous people. For a long time, the serious health problems facing Indigenous Australians went unrecognised. Unfortunately there has been a rise in lifestyle related diseases and conditions in Indigenous people including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and renal disease. Such chronic diseases are common amongst many disadvantaged groups. Tackling these issues will assist in improving the quality of life and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians.
The life expectancy for Indigenous people is up to 20 years less than that for the rest of the population. This is largely due to the high prevalence of lifestyle related disease.
The modifiable risk factors for lifestyle related diseases are the same for any population and include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Poor quality diet
- Overweight and obesity
The disparity between diet pre and post colonisation
Prior to European colonisations, Indigenous people would hunt and gather their food. This meant relying on the resources available which generally included lean meats and plant based fresh produce. The foods they were consuming were low in fat, didn’t contain added sugars and were high in fibre. Additionally, they expended a lot more energy in obtaining the food and digesting it.
Therefore, the rise in lifestyle related disease could largely be attributed to a westernised diet and lifestyle habits, and a decrease in physical activity.
Unfortunately the solution is not as simple as just telling Indigenous people what to eat. They face many other challenges in their day to day lives, and food security is a big issue. Other factors that are impacting Indigenous health include:
- Low income and high unemployment rates
- Inadequate housing
- Lower standards of hygiene
- Disadvantages in education
- Poor access to nutritious foods
- Limited knowledge of nutritious foods
All of the above factors can increase the risk of lifestyle related disease and can make management of conditions more difficult.
What can be done to help?
Community run programmes are a great way to provide education and practical skills to Indigenous people. This is a good start, and will provide the knowledge to make better choices when it comes to food and how to eat healthy on a budget. Involving nutrition and physical activity components at school will teach children healthy habits from a young age. Increasing education levels and practical skills will aid in better choices and better management of health.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Nutritionist. If you have questions about nutrition, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns.