Improving Indigenous health through lifestyle programs and building organisational capability

Healthy lifestyle programs that are community managed and initiated can be effective in improving physical activity levels and nutrition among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, according to a paper released today by the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse.

‘Indigenous Australians suffer the worst health of any population group in Australia, having a burden of disease that is estimated to be 2.5 times that of the non-Indigenous population,’ said Clearinghouse spokesperson Dr Fadwa Al-Yaman.

‘Lifestyle related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver disease continue to lower the life expectancy of Indigenous Australians.’

‘The resource sheet released today, Healthy lifestyle programs for physical activity and nutrition, identifies a number of programs shown to be effective that were initiated and managed by local Indigenous communities,’ Dr Al-Yaman said.

Examples of some of the positive results stemming from community-led programs included stabilisation of diabetes rates, and significant falls in smoking rates, cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

A second Clearinghouse paper, Improving Indigenous community governance through strengthening Indigenous and government organisational capacity, was also released today. It reveals that strengthening organisational capacity was relevant for all seven COAG-endorsed building blocks for overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: early childhood, economic participation, governance and leadership, health, healthy homes, safe communities and schooling.

The report noted that sound governance structures allow Indigenous people to effectively make decisions about their long-term goals and objectives for their communities, what kind of development they want and what actions need to be taken to achieve those goals.

‘Strategies that have been found to work to strengthen Indigenous organisational capacity include long term partnerships between government and Indigenous people, those that recognise local contexts and take a developmental approach, and those that have a clarity of purpose or clear notion of what type of capacity is being strengthened and for whom,’ Dr Al-Yaman said.

The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse ( is jointly funded by all Australian governments and provides an online source of information on what works to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. It is delivered by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).


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