SEATTLE, Washington — Aboriginal children facing obesity in Australia are at risk of developing metabolic diseases at a higher rate than non-indigenous children. This is mainly due to social and economic barriers, unhealthy food introduced into the diet as well as a lack of education and healthy foods.
5 Facts About Aboriginal Children Facing Obesity in Australia
- The Aboriginals’ land for hunting and gathering was destroyed. This led to an unhealthy diet. European settlers in Australia destroyed a lot of land with land development initiatives. This land was important to Aboriginals since it was where they hunted and gathered much of their food that sustained a nutritious diet. The normal Aboriginal diet was healthy, with a lot of fats and foods like meat, nuts, berries and vegetables grown off the fertile land. However, due to European influence, access to traditional food and knowledge of preparing the food was lost. This is the phenomenon that has contributed to food insecurity among many indigenous tribes.
- Type 2 diabetes has decreased the life expectancy of Aboriginal children by 27 years. The burden of obesity in the indigenous population has caused an increase in type 2 diabetes among children. Consequently, there is a decrease in the life expectancy of Aboriginal children with obesity. If obesity among indigenous tribes and their children increases, rates of disease and the mortality rate will increase.
- Access to basic necessities is a major issue for Aboriginal children facing obesity and their families. What most Aboriginal homes lack is basic access to necessities for a healthy lifestyle, like functioning kitchens and stoves. In some communities, families do not even have access to a refrigerator. Without the ability to cook or store food at home, families are forced to purchase processed foods. These foods are often high in sodium and sugar and lack proper nutrition. There is a misconception is that advertising will fix this problem. For example, by informing the people that they are making bad decisions by eating unhealthily, they will stop. The truth is that it is not a choice among these families, but instead the only way to survive. Social media marketing campaigns have been pushing advertising that fails to address the core issue.
- Aboriginal children facing obesity and their families are often unable to afford and access healthy food. In fact, there are 80,000 indigenous Australians that have a lack of nutritious food due to the distance from major cities. Indigenous Australians are living in more disadvantaged areas than non-indigenous Australians. This means that they cannot afford a healthy diet as it is not readily available to them. Food insecurity is a major issue and common in 36% of those living in remote areas and 20% of those in urban areas. Since they are living in poorer economic conditions, it is harder for many to make healthy dietary choices.
- Organizations are fighting against obesity. Go4Fun is an organization fighting against obesity. At least 6% of the children aged 7-13 were Aboriginal. Go4Fun hosted a 10-week program focused on improving nutritional habits and physical activity. Go4Fun established specific Aboriginal groups to target significant areas impacted by obesity. It introduced fun, non-competitive activity sessions through the Queensland “Parenting, Eating and Activity for Child Health.” This benefited children aged 5-11 years, 5% of whom were from Aboriginal families. Healthy Jarjums Make Healthy Food Choices focused on contemporary food practices in primary schools. This system helped to educate children on making healthy food habits. Unfortunately, funding and limited resources are issues preventing these organizations from reaching some Aboriginal children. As a result, there is a gap in the development of effective programs that can reach more Aboriginal children. The Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council (NPYWC) created several initiatives to fight childhood obesity. With its child nutrition program, it is working to serve communities by enforcing strict guidelines for what should be in a community store and what should not. It makes healthy options available and receives referrals from hospitals and community clinics for children who are at risk.
Of Aboriginal adults, 70% are overweight and 30% of Aboriginal children appear to be overweight. With organizations such as NPYWC, Australia can address the issue of childhood obesity and take evaluative measures. With proper funding and more outreach programs that inform the general public, there is hope.
– Joelle Shusterman