More evidence of the association of high intakes of sugary drinks with poor health outcomes, particularly in children, have been found in a new review of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ nutrition.
Researchers from Edith Cowan University (ECU)’s Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet found that in some areas of Australia rates of overweight and obesity among Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children had increased at double the rate of non-Indigenous children, and were worryingly high.
For example, 37% of urban Aboriginal children were overweight or obese at two years of age.
In Australia, high intakes of sugary drinks are associated with excess weight gain in both adults and children.
On average, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people two years and over reported consuming an average of 75 grams (18 teaspoons) of free sugars per day – nearly 50 per cent more than World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.
Two-thirds (67 per cent) of this free sugar came from sugary drinks.
“The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who reported consuming sugary drinks was higher than non-Indigenous Australians in all age groups, especially children,” said Professor Amanda Lee.
“Obesity in infancy and childhood is linked to poorer health outcomes later in life, including a greater risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type-two diabetes.”
Overall, the review found clear links between nutrition and health outcomes.
Researchers attribute nutrition challenges to a range of factors, notably a lack of food security (supply and affordability of healthy food) and the need for community-based nutrition-promotion programs.
Evidence of successes
The report also offers ample evidence of community-based programs – developed, implemented and evaluated by community members – that show real success.
For example, a 16-year assessment of the now-finished Looma Healthy Lifestyle Project in 2009 found children and young people to be relatively healthy, with 84 per cent of those under 18 years of age being normal weight, compared with 77 per cent nationally.
This, and a successful project at Minjilang, focussed on improving food supply in the community store and included activities such as cooking classes, store tours, promotion of traditional cooking methods and health information sessions about diabetes and chronic diseases.
“All available evidence confirms that effective nutrition interventions are feasible and have huge potential to influence long-term improvements in nutrition and diet-related health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” Professor Lee said.
“It is imperative that Australia continues to develop national, coordinated, strategic, cross-sectoral policies and legislative reforms to address the nutrition, food security and diet-related health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”