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Physical activity intervention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations

Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute

  • Early-Mid Career Fellowship
Date Funded:
  • 2 February, 2017
Chief Investigator/s:
  • Dr. Rebecca Stanley

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of premature death among Aboriginal Australians and there is increasing disparity in rates of cardiovascular-related deaths between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. From 2008-2012, non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, accounted for 81 per cent of the gap in mortality rates. Obesity (16 per cent) and physical inactivity (12 per cent) are leading risk factors in the development of chronic disease and the overall health gap in Aboriginal Australians.

Obesity is responsible for 1-3yrs of the 10-yr gap in life expectancy. Higher levels of these modifiable risk factors that contribute to this health disparity among Aboriginal adults are already present in Aboriginal children. Compared with their non-Aboriginal peers, Aboriginal children are 1.4 times more likely to be overweight or obese, 1.8 times more likely to exceed screen time guidelines and 1.6 times more likely to have unhealthy eating habits. The risk of type 2 diabetes in Aboriginal children is 8 times higher than in their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

As cardiovascular disease is one of the leading contributors to the life expectancy gap, there is a need to better understand the key modifiable behaviours of cardiovascular disease, such as physical activity (PA) and sedentary behaviour (SB), and better understand culturally acceptable ways to promote healthy levels of these behaviours among Aboriginal children. This evidence is currently lacking for Aboriginal children and is critical to improving cardiovascular health behaviours in Aboriginal Australians.

Conducting research with Aboriginal communities is a long-term commitment, requiring respectful negotiations within the research partnership, which can only occur through continuous and consistent relationship building. This fellowship will build on a 2-year partnership with three Aboriginal communities in NSW. A priority identified by these communities is to raise healthy children and provide their children with opportunities to connect with Country and culture. This fellowship will use a behavioural epidemiology framework to understand PA and SB behaviours among Aboriginal children and how these health behaviours relate to cultural connectedness.

Specifically, this project aims to:
1. Determine the prevalence and patterns of PA and SB and their associations with cardiovascular health.
2. Identify the cultural determinants of PA and SB;
3. Design, implement and evaluate an afterschool Aboriginal cultural program to promote healthy lifestyle behaviours; and
4. Translate the evidence into dissemination strategies of Australia’s Physical Activity Guidelines to 5-12 year-old Aboriginal children.