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Aboriginal health findings validate preventative investment

Wednesday 27 November, 2013

The findings of the ‘Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey' released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics today validate the Federal Government's investment and community partnership approach to tackling chronic disease risk factors, according to Todd Harper, CEO of Cancer Council Victoria.

"It is extremely pleasing to see that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are smoking less than ever before with the number of people smoking every day decreasing by 10 percentage points over the past decade. It is also encouraging to see that the take up of smoking in these communities is declining, matching the trend in the non-Indigenous population.

"It really validates the partnership model which adopts a genuine national approach with all levels of government, health and medical professionals and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It's a credit to the National Tackling Indigenous Smoking program and to all the Tobacco Action Workers, Healthy Lifestyle Workers and Aboriginal specific Quitline services that we are starting to see these positive results.

"It's important however to note that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still nearly three times as likely as the non-Indigenous population to be current daily smokers. This means we need to keep the pressure on and maintain the momentum through continued investment in these programs," said Mr Harper.

The survey found that obesity rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females and males were higher than the comparable rates for non-Indigenous people in every age group. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were 1.5 times as likely as non-Indigenous people to be obese (rate ratio of 1.4 for males and 1.7 for females).

Mr Harper said while obesity rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were higher than the non-Indigenous population, changing people's diets and encouraging higher levels of physical activity was a slow process that required a sustained effort and investment as well as changes to the environment in which people live.

"Obesity is a significant risk factor for cancer, diabetes and many other chronic illnesses so it is vital we support people to make healthier choices - making healthier food cheaper, restricting junk food marketing to children and improving labelling on packaged food to empower people, are all important elements of reducing overweight and obesity in all communities

"We know that more than a third of all cancers can be prevented by lifestyle changes to do with quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet and limiting alcohol. This is particularly relevant for Aboriginal communities which have relatively higher incidence rates of cancer diagnoses, compared with Victorians of other descent, which are associated with tobacco use, alcohol consumption and other preventable factors."

Cancer statistics for Aboriginal and / or Torres Strait Islander Victorians

  • There are over 90 new diagnoses of cancer each year.
  • There are nearly 40 cancer related deaths each year. 
  • The cancers for which Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Victorians have relatively higher incidence rates, compared with Victorians of other descent, are associated with tobacco use, alcohol consumption, infection with hepatitis and infection with human papilloma virus (HPV).