Better health and ageing for all Australians

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework - 2010

2.22 Level of physical activity

Up to OATSIH Publications

prev pageTOC |next page

Table of contents

Why is it important?:

Physical inactivity is an important modifiable risk factor associated with several potentially preventable chronic diseases that are prevalent in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. These include cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes. Physical activity can also be beneficial in the treatment/management of depression, anxiety and stress. Physical inactivity is also related to overweight and obesity, another important risk factor for multiple diseases. Most recent Australian estimates attribute 6.7% of the Australian burden of disease to physical inactivity, with similar impact for both males and females.

The Burden of Disease and Injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2003 (Vos et al. 2007) attributed 8% of the total burden of disease in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population to physical inactivity. Physical inactivity is the third leading risk factor, after tobacco and high body mass. Its effect is manifested through a range of diseases, most notably ischaemic heart disease (55% of the burden attributed to physical inactivity) and diabetes (33%). If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had the same activity levels as the total Australian population, the total Indigenous excess burden of disease (or health gap) could be reduced by up to 7% (Vos et al. 2007).

Studies of the relationship between physical activity and the presence of disease have confirmed the risk reduction that it provides for heart disease (Stephenson et al. 2000; Bull et al. 2004), essential hypertension (Kokkinos et al. 2001), diabetes and the symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress (WHO 2008). In the case of diabetes, large scale trials in China, Finland and the United States have shown that a combination of modest weight loss, diet and moderate physical activity can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 50–60% in those at high risk (Bull et al. 2004).

Findings:

There was a noticeable shift towards lower levels of physical activity between 2001 and 2004–05 among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in non-remote areas. The proportion of sedentary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over increased between those years from 37% to 47%. The proportion reporting a high level of physical activity remained unchanged over this period at 7%.

After adjusting for differences in age structure, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in non-remote areas were one and a half times as likely as other Australians to be classified as sedentary in 2004–05. A higher proportion of Indigenous females than Indigenous males were sedentary (51% compared with 42%).

The proportion of Indigenous Australians who were sedentary ranged from 37% in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory to 51% in New South Wales.

Proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with sedentary or low levels of physical activity were highest among those aged 45 years and over, while moderate or high levels of physical activity were highest among those aged 15–24 and 25–34 years (32% and 27% respectively).

Over three-quarters (78%) of Indigenous people aged 15 years and over who were overweight or obese reported exercising at low or sedentary levels. Most Indigenous current smokers (83%) reported low or sedentary exercise levels.

There is a positive association between level of physical activity and self-assessed health status. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in non-remote areas the proportion reporting excellent, very good or good health status rises from 71% for those whose physical activity levels are sedentary to 94% of those engaging in high levels of physical activity.

Implications:

Improving physical activity levels presents a significant opportunity for closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage, particularly in terms of a reduction in deaths from ischaemic heart disease and diabetes.

Individual health behaviours should be interpreted with an understanding of the socioeconomic and structural factors that incline the population to risk (OATSIH 2004). In relation to physical activity, the Cultural Respect Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (AHMAC 2004) identifies the need for cultural competence standards, action planning and cultural protocols in population health programs at the corporate, organisational and care delivery levels.

A priority of the NSFATSIH is to address the predeterminants of chronic disease with a particular focus on nutrition and physical activity. Action areas include partnerships with governments, local councils, private sponsors, and sports and recreation organisations to encourage the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in sport and recreational activities.

To encourage opportunities for physical activity, funding agreements are in place to provide access to a range of sport and physical recreation activities across Australia. These agreements include weekly sports competitions, sports carnivals, small sporting grants, sports equipment, sport and recreation officers and access to sport-specific accreditation (e.g. sports administration, umpiring, coaching). Community-based health promotion initiatives incorporating traditional games are also being analysed for holistic benefits including cultural connectedness and improved wellbeing (Parker et al. 2006).

Preventative health is also a key priority area of the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes. Under the Agreement, governments are introducing initiatives to help reduce the lifestyle risk factors that contribute to preventable chronic disease, including a network of healthy lifestyle worker teams to promote improved physical activity.

Figure 122 –Indigenous persons aged 15 years and over, level of physical activity, non-remote areas, 2001 and 2004–05


Figure 122 –Indigenous persons aged 15 years and over, level of physical activity, non-remote areas, 2001 and 2004–05
Source: ABS & AIHW analysis of 2001 National Health Survey (Indigenous supplement) and 2004–05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey
Text description of figure 122 (TXT 1KB)

Figure 123 – Persons aged 15 years and over reporting a sedentary level of physical activity, by Indigenous status, sex and age group, non-remote areas, 2004–05


Figure 123 – Persons aged 15 years and over reporting a sedentary level of physical activity, by Indigenous status, sex and age group, non-remote areas, 2004–05
Source: ABS & AIHW analysis of 2004–05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey and 2004–05 National Health Survey
Text description of figure 123 (TXT 1KB)

Figure 124 – Persons aged 15 years and over, level of physical activity, by Indigenous status, non-remote areas, 2004–05


Figure 124 – Persons aged 15 years and over, level of physical activity, by Indigenous status, non-remote areas, 2004–05
Source: ABS & AIHW analysis of 2004–05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey and 2004–05 National Health Survey
Text description of figure 124 (TXT 1KB)

Figure 125 – Persons aged 15 years and over reporting excellent, very good or good health status by Indigenous status and level of physical activity, non-remote areas, age-standardised, 2004–05


Figure 125 – Persons aged 15 years and over reporting excellent, very good or good health status by Indigenous status and level of physical activity, non-remote areas, age-standardised, 2004–05
Source: ABS & AIHW analysis of 2004–05 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey and 2004–05 National Health Survey
Text description of figure 125 (TXT 1KB)

prev pageTOC |next page