Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Food and nutrition programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians: an overview of systematic reviews

Jennifer Browne A , Karen Adams B , Petah Atkinson B , Deborah Gleeson A and Rick Hayes A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Kingsbury Drive, Bundoora, Vic. 3086, Australia. Email: d.gleeson@latrobe.edu.au; r.hayes@latrobe.edu.au

B Gukwonderuk Indigenous Engagement Unit, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Building 15, Monash University, Clayton, Vic. 3168, Australia. Email: karen.adams@monash.edu; petah.atkinson@monash.edu

C Corresponding author. Email: jsbrowne@students.latrobe.edu.au

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH17082
Submitted: 16 March 2017  Accepted: 11 July 2017   Published online: 19 September 2017

Abstract

Objective To provide an overview of previous reviews of programs that aimed to improve nutritional status or diet-related health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, in order to determine what programs are effective and why.

Methods A systematic search of databases and relevant websites was undertaken to identify reviews of nutrition interventions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Pairs of reviewers undertook study selection and data extraction and performed quality assessment using a validated tool.

Results Twelve papers reporting 11 reviews were identified. Two reviews were rated high quality, three were rated medium and six were rated low quality. The reviews demonstrated that a positive effect on nutrition and chronic disease indicators can be a result of: 1) incorporating nutrition and breastfeeding advice into maternal and child health care services; and 2) multifaceted community nutrition programs. The evidence suggests that the most important factor determining the success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander food and nutrition programs is community involvement in (and, ideally, control of) program development and implementation.

Conclusions Community-directed food and nutrition programs, especially those with multiple components that address the underlying causes of nutrition issues, can be effective in improving nutrition-related outcomes.

What is known about the topic? More effective action is urgently required in order to reduce the unacceptable health inequalities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. Food insecurity and nutrition-related chronic conditions are responsible for a large proportion of the ill health experienced by Australia’s First Peoples.

What does this paper add? This narrative overview of 11 reviews published between 2005 and 2015 provides a synthesis of the current evidence for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nutrition across the lifespan. The findings suggest that community-based and community-controlled programs, especially those with multiple components that address the underlying causes of nutrition issues, have the greatest potential to improve nutrition-related health outcomes.

What are the implications for practitioners? Food and nutrition programs that are initiated and designed by local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are most likely to be effective. Nutrition and breastfeeding education and advice should be consistently incorporated into maternal and child healthcare services. Nutrition issues should be addressed through multifaceted approaches that address improving individual knowledge and skills, as well as strategies that increase access to nutritious food and provide a healthy food environment.


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