Health Early childhood the key to improving Indigenous health

Early childhood the key to improving Indigenous health

Programs and policies to promote healthy weight should target children as young as three, according to a major study into the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children by researchers at the Australian National University (ANU).

Lead researcher Katie Thurber said the majority of Indigenous children in the national study had a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), but around 40 per cent were classified as overweight or obese by the time they reached nine years of age.

“People who are obese in childhood are at increased risk of being obese in adulthood, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, diabetes, and arthritis,” said Ms Thurber, PhD Scholar, from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at ANU.

Latest national figures show obesity rates are 60 per cent higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples compared to non-Indigenous Australians. Improving obesity rates would have a major benefit in closing the gap in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Ms Thurber said the research found reducing consumption of sugary drinks and junk food from an early age could benefit the health of Indigenous children, but that this is just one part of the solution to improving weight status.

“We know that Indigenous families across Australia – in remote, regional, and urban settings – face barriers to accessing healthy foods. Therefore, efforts to reduce junk food consumption need to occur alongside efforts to increase the affordability, availability, and acceptability of healthy foods,” she said.

“We want to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities, as well as policy makers and service providers, to think about what will work best to promote healthy weight in those early childhood years.

“We want to start early, and identify the best ways for families and communities to support healthy diets, so that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children can have a healthy start to life.”

Read more about this important study here. Story credit: Australian National University newsroom.

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