The goal of closing the gap in health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is unlikely to be met unless racism is tackled, according to new Flinders University research.
The finding, from a major new report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in urban areas, confirms a direct link between racism and poor health outcomes.
In Our Own Backyard: Urban health inequities and Aboriginal experiences of neighbourhood life, social capital and racism is the result of a three-year study conducted by researchers at Flinders University’s Southgate Institute with the support of the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health.
One of the project’s chief investigators, Dr Anna Ziersch said 93 per cent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who took part in the study reported experiencing racism.
“We found that experiencing regular racism was associated with poor health,” Dr Ziersch said.
“But racism also is also experienced when trying to meet basic needs such as renting a house or going to the supermarket,” she said.
Dr Ziersch said addressing racism is likely to have better health outcomes than a single-minded focus on lifestyle behaviours.
“Compared to the general population, twice as many Aboriginal people did not drink and most exercised regularly – and yet they had worse physical and mental health.”
The report concludes that closing the gap in a generation will require significant changes to the way Australian society is currently organised.
“The Federal Government’s aspiration to close the gap will not be achieved unless Australians from all walks of life are aware that racism is unacceptable,” Dr Ziersch said.
The Flinders University researchers have identified the following as other key policy issues:
- Indigenous cultures should be promoted and celebrated.
- Changing behaviours is only likely to be successful when people live in environments that are supportive of healthy lifestyles and lifestyle choices.
- If Aboriginal health is to improve relative to other Australians then so must the way in which Aboriginal people compare on the social determinants of health.
• A holistic approach to improving mental health is essential