Australia’s indigenous health status of the people continues to be worst compared to other sub groups. According to a research study that there is little improvement over the past decades about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s health status. Their adult life expectancy is decreased by 15-20 years, twice mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases, death rate was 17 times higher due to diabetes and 10 times more due to pneumonia compared to non-indigenous Australians.
Even with the improvements in perinatal, they still remain to signify a major death cause, with up to 2.5 times higher of infant deaths than the general population.
Last 2012-2013 report, it shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander from 15 years old above were overweight (66%) and (30%) were average in weight and underweight were (4%). Occurrence in unhealthy pregnancy outcomes and malnutrition are still high in all areas. Cases of low birthweight and poor growth of children are still major concerns in most many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Providing good nutrition to children have failed that lead to health problems like pneumonia and other infectious diseases. Poor diet to children is an ongoing health issue contributing to obesity, heart diseases, malnutrition and tooth decay as well.
Determinants of Poor Nutrition in Children
Historical, socioeconomic, environmental and geographic are factors that contribute to the current poor health diet, nutrition and food security experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
A.) Historical Factor
Traditional Torres Strait Islander diets varied from island to island. They used to hunt animal and plant food. They always have fish and other seafoods in their meal. Gardening was very important to them for ceremonies or trades. They planted different crops such as taro, yams, coconut and bananas. But when European settlers came, there were shortage of traditional foods and many of the aboriginal people were forced to use the “introduced” food like flour, sugar, tobacco, eat, tinned meat and other foods which were high in fat and sugar. During their settlements and mission Aborigines had to share dining rooms, it seems to be their only choice to get some food. Because there was lack in distribution of the traditional food, it contributed to insufficiency of knowledge in preparing nutritious food, lack of food management, and poor feeding of their children. During these times, the Aboriginal people were eating food that lack of Vitamins, calcium, iron, fruits and vegetables.
B.) Socio-economic factor
a.) Housing– 7% are homeless and others lived all in one congested house.
b.) Lack of Income and Unemployment- Recent social survey last 2014-2015 showed that the unemployment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander was 20.6% aged 15 years and above, while Australians in general unemployment rate was only 12.7%. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have no jobs who were unemployed have greater risk of getting sick because of the decreased amount of fruit and vegetable consumption.
Food cost in remote areas are higher than in urban areas which low income families could not afford to buy healthy foods. The Food cost is 50% more expensive prices in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities than in urban areas.
c.) Lack of education- Because they lived in an isolated and remote place, the source of education and employment opportunities are limited only.
d.) Food cultural values -The effect of their previous policies and practices and how their diet was being introduced reflected their poor health status.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders physical environment where they live has a great impact for their nutritional status. According to the report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last 2012-2013, there were only 6% of the Aboriginal people that have all things functioning and present in their house like proper kitchen, cupboards, stove and sink, proper bath or shower and toilet and 13% have overcrowded households . It is very important to remove overcrowding and provide a proper and appropriate houses , well maintained and constructed houses are vital for the safe preparation, storage and consumption of food. The proper garbage disposal and having a safe sewage are very important for maintaining good health as well.
There is a large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that live in remote and very remote places compare to urban and regional areas. 40% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who are staying in remote areas experience health gap. Nutritious food items are only limited in remote stores especially having fresh fruit and vegetables supply, lean meat, dairy products that are low in fat, and whole grain cereals. People in remote communities also experience without food for an extended period due to road or weather conditions.
The maternal and perinatal result of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and babies shows consistency to be poorer than those non-indigenous Australian mothers. Risk factors are giving birth at young age, living in remote area and socio-economic difficulties.
The first national survey for dietary intake of children was conducted last 2012-2013 by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nutrition and physical activity survey. It monitors the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children dietary intake .According to the study that children in the communities described to have low intakes of fruit and vegetables because of the barriers like children disliking fruit and vegetables (33%), (4.1%) affordability, (7.4%) accessibility and (3.2%) lack of availability.
Therefore, food security is very important in human right. Food security happens only when all people have safe and sufficient access to healthy foods, physically and economically in order to meet dietary needs for active and a healthy life. The right to adequate food is understand by people, the opportunity to feed themselves and their families. Having such a low income, unemployment, lack of opportunities for education, lack of knowledge and skills, overcrowding, inadequate housing, pricey food, mothers giving birth at young age, are considered to be the major risk factors of underweight and malnutrition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.