Aboriginal people in the Riverina are more than twice as likely as non-indigenous people to be hospitalised for heart-related conditions.
The latest figures on this “ratio gap” have been released by the Australian Heart Foundation.
With a gap of 2.1 per cent, the Riverina ranked 33 out of 47 regions.
The Riverina’s result was narrower than the national average 2.6, and bang on the NSW state average of 2.1.
“I think it’s important that we look at the circumstances people are living in.”Wiradjuri man Greg Packer
The new Australian “heart maps” data was released by the Heart Foundation’s Aboriginal engagement manager, Corey Turner, and health equity manager, Jane Potter.
“We cannot be complacent about the rates of heart disease being experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as heart disease is responsible for around one quarter of the gap in life expectancy compared to non-indigenous Australians,” said Ms Potter.
“In some parts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the hospitalisation rates are over four times higher than for non-indigenous people living in the same region.”
The figures came as no surprise to Wiradjuri man Greg Packer, who worked in health for more than 30 years, and says concerns about indigenous health issues are nothing new.
Mr Packer also believes improving the health of the indigenous community would be a flow-on effect from increased employment opportunities.
“It’s all about creating employment,” he said.
“I think it’s important that we look at the circumstances people are living in.”
Mr Packer said many families with limited budgets were making food choices based on cost rather than nutritional value.
“They’re buying the cheapest food they can get, and this food isn’t always the best for health.”
Mr Packer said one survey he had helped to conduct – which had gathered the views of about 50 indigenous families from around Wagga – had found they were eating a lot of inexpensive meat products, such as sausages or mince.
“They were eating red meat three times a day,” he said.
Mr Packer said there were no “quick fixes” to improve the health of indigenous people.
“But, there needs to be more education programs in health,” he said.
“The younger people play a lot of sport, but as they get older and start to retire from these sports, they’re no longer getting enough exercise.”
The Heart Foundation said there was also a historical distrust of mainstream health services among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“This can mean that many will delay seeking medical help at their local clinic (if they have one) in time to prevent being hospitalised,” Mr Turner said.
“They can also discharge themselves early against medical advice because they are so anxious about being in hospital, beginning a cycle of poor outcomes and repeat admissions.”
Like Mr Packer, Mr Turner recognised the importance of good education, secure employment, adequate housing and access to affordable healthy food.
“We know that 24 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 15 reported having run out of food in the previous 12 months – in remote areas, as many as 36 per cent. People in remote areas pay the highest prices for food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, which are harder to come by,” Mr Turner said.