NAIDOC Week 2021: Embrace culture when using physical activity to close the health gap

6 July 2021

As we celebrate NAIDOC Week, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) wants to ensure that closing the health gap remains a top priority for our Australian Government and that we are working together with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for a shared, healthier future.

“Currently, the disease burden among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is more than double that (2.3%) of non-Indigenous Australians. Closing the health gap means achieving health and life expectation equality for Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” says Anita Hobson-Powell, ESSA Chief Executive Officer.

On top of this, physical inactivity then accounts for about 6% of the health burden among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples. Higher rates of sedentary behaviours are associated with an increased risk of chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

“Encouraging our Indigenous communities to remain active is vital. Improving physical activity levels presents a significant opportunity for health improvements and for reducing the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”

Although currently more Indigenous children (aged 5–17) are meeting the physical activity guideline than non-Indigenous children of the same age group, there is a responsibility of the Government to ensure there are steps in place for Indigenous children to grow up and become physically active adults.

“However, culture is central to Indigenous well-being and needs to be embraced and embedded throughout Indigenous and mainstream lifestyle modification services,” adds Anita.

This NAIDOC Week, the theme focuses on ‘Heal Country!’. It highlights how Country is inherent to the identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the importance of recognising, protecting, and maintaining all aspects of their culture and heritage.

“Similar to the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap that came into effect in July 2020, physical activity interventions to improve life outcomes for Indigenous Australians need to be developed with Indigenous Australians.

Interventions using a range of culturally appropriate services and programs is essential to improve participation in physical activity and can lead to prevention of chronic disease risk in our First Nation communities.”

Through in-depth interviews with young remote Aboriginal people who had successfully made significant healthy lifestyle changes, the research shared that lifestyle modification programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders need to foster internal motivation; enhance key health knowledge; and modify health beliefs and risk perception.

Further research shows that improved health literacy implemented by the Government and health care organisations will enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to take an active role in their health.

“Whilst we know that physical activity is important to improve the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, we need to ensure suitable programs are in place that are going to meet their needs, not just physically, but culturally, spiritually, emotionally, and socially,” adds Anita.

ESSA also supports the notion that local accredited exercise professionals who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are best placed to educate and engage Indigenous communities on the benefits of exercise for their physical and mental health and well-being.

“As the accrediting body for exercise and sports science professionals, it’s important that we have a better understanding of our cultural ways of being and how this knowledge can be adapted to the way we provide sport, exercise and exercise physiology services.”

To find out more information about NAIDOC Week, please visit the website.
To find out about NAIDOC Week activities in your area, contact your nearest Regional Office.

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