• Health policy;
  • indigenous;
  • nutrition;
  • risk factors;
  • traditional diet

The health status of Australia’s indigenous people remains the worst of any subgroup within the population, and there is little evidence of any significant improvement over the past two decades, a situation unprecedented on a world scale. Compared with non-indigenous Australians, adult life expectancy is reduced by 15−20 years, with twice the rates of mortality from heart disease, 17 times the death rate from diabetes and 10 times the deaths from pneumonia. Despite improvements in perinatal mortality, they continue to represent a major cause of death, with infant deaths up to 2.5 times higher than the general population. The problems of educational disadvantage and unemployment are reflected in twice the rates of smoking and high obesity levels. Seven percent of indigenous families are homeless, with many more in inadequate and overcrowded housing, sometimes lacking water or sewerage. Economic disadvantage is real: 23% worry about going without food. Nutritional deficiencies in children have resulted in failure to thrive, contributing greatly to the problems of pneumonia and infectious diseases. The remoteness and isolation of many Aboriginal communities limit education and employment opportunities. It is important to consider the historical context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in order to gain an understanding of current health problems. The impact of past policies and practices and the ‘introduced diet’ are reflected in the poor health outcomes described above. This session will explore some of the underlying historical, cultural, structural and political factors that can be linked to the current problems.