Sport and recreation programs help health in Indigenous communities

A paper released today on the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website examines the beneficial effects of participation in sports and recreation for supporting healthy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The paper, Supporting healthy communities through sports and recreation programs, reviews over 30 studies, covering all geographic areas from inner city to remote regions, and age groups ranging from primary school to young adult.

It shows that there are many benefits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from participation in sport and recreational programs, including some improvements in school retention, attitudes towards learning, social and cognitive skills, physical and mental health and wellbeing; increased social inclusion and cohesion; increased validation of and connection to culture; and some evidence of crime reduction.

The paper shows that although the effects of sports and recreation programs can be powerful and transformative, these effects tend to be indirect and therefore hard to measure.

For example, programs to reduce juvenile antisocial behaviour largely work through diversion-these can provide alternative and safer opportunities for risk-taking, for maintenance of social status, and in building healthy relationships with elders.

Because of the lack of direct measures on the impact of sports and recreation programs on various outcomes for Indigenous Australians, this resource sheet focussed on some of the principles that can help ensure that the program is successful. These include:

  • Linking sports and recreation programs with other services and opportunities;
  • Promoting a program rather than a desired outcome;
  • Engaging the community in the planning and implementation of programs, as this will ensure that the program is culturally appropriate, and potentially sustainable.

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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