Culture the missing link to better Aboriginal health

By Natalie Dragon|
2018-12-12T11:50:20+10:00
December 10th, 2018|

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Cultural participation may be the missing link to better health and wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, according to research from the Australian National University (ANU).


Socioeconomic factors such as education, employment and income status only account for 50% of the equity gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health and wellbeing.

ANU Researcher Associate Professor Ray Lovett presented the research at the recent Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) conference held in Adelaide.

‘Up to half the equity gap is socioeconomic – employment, income status, education.

That leaves a huge unexplained component of 50% and this is what we are not measuring.

“Fifty per cent of the equation is missing – this 50% is culture participation,” Associate Professor Lovett said.

Cultural participation is linked to increased life satisfaction and better health and wellbeing as found in the Aboriginal Ranger jobs and wellbeing outcomes in Central Australia: Proof of concept study released in June this year.

Indigenous people working as Rangers in Central Australia have greater health and wellbeing outcomes, the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the ANU found.

In Central Australia, the Central Land Council employs about 90 Rangers that work in small regional teams. Their role and work improves country, ensures continuation of cultural practices and knowledge and enhances wellbeing.

Ranger participation was significantly associated with very high life satisfaction and high family wellbeing. The research also found Rangers had good general health. “Rangers were twice as likely to have high life satisfaction and 50% more likely to have very high family wellbeing. They also self-reported good health,” Associate Professor Lovett said.

Country and connection to country are important cultural constructs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia, he said. “This includes good identity and connection to land.”

The Ranger study was part of a larger national study, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing (the Mayi Kuwayu Study).

Current national policy on improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples lacked strategy on supporting culture, including identity, kinship and connection to land, Associate Professor Lovett said.

“How does policy support that [culture participation]? How is culture to be monitored? We need to develop culture bound questions – culture, history, our experiences.

Culture needs to be linked to questions on health and wellbeing.”

Cultural factors include identity, connection to country, connections to family/community, learning and practising culture, language and control over your life (self-determination).

Wellbeing includes experiences of life satisfaction, family wellbeing, mental wellbeing, health risk factors and conditions, stolen generations and racism.

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