Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are the indigenous communities that make up about 3.1% of Australia’s population (Pink and Allbon, 2008). These two communities have different traditions and languages. Despite the cultural and linguistic differences, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander have many similar experiences. According to Ho, Mathew and Anda (2009) the effects of colonisation and many unresolved issues like land rights and poor economic developments has affected the health and well-being of these communities negatively. This essay analyses in detail how social economic factors like education, employment and income, housing and health behaviour and lifestyle impacts the health and well-being of Australians indigenous communities.
Education plays a vital role in determining the health and well-being of people. Educational attainment affects several factors that in turn influence health outcomes (Altindag, Cannonier and Mocan, 2011). Through education people get to understand their health needs, effectively communicate with health providers about health issues and follow instructions. According to Minogue (2016) a research conducted in year 2012-2013 show that only 59% of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders aged between 20-24 years complete year 12 compared to 87% of their non indigenous counterparts.
Education level of an individual determines the level of literacy in relation to health the person has. The fact that the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders have lower education levels compared to the non-indigenous countrymen means that they have lower capacity of decision making about health matters (Nair and Cienkowski, 2010). According to Nair and Cienkowski (2010) a health literacy and health outcome review indicate that individuals with low health literacy suffered from poor knowledge and understanding of health related issues and could not interpret health messages and labels accurately. The level of education of a person determines the kind of neighbourhood the person lives in. Still a person’s education level can be determined by the neighbourhood they live in. Research has found that areas with high population of people with low levels of education have very few resources like schools and health facilities (Altindag, Cannonier and Mocan, 2011). Fewer educational facilities results to stretching of the available ones thus compromising the quality of education received.
Education empowers people by increasing their employability rate which in turn increases income levels. Due to the ability to earn higher income, educated people can then afford medical care as compared to the less educated counterparts (Nair and Cienkowski, 2010). Accessing better healthcare services results to improved health of the individual and the dependents thanks to better income caused by higher level of education. In addition, education enables people make decision regarding their diet and nutrition. Eating Balanced diet supplies the body with essential nutrients for optimal body functioning thus promoting good health (Pérez-Escamilla et al, 2008). Further, higher level educated people have the ability to identify health hazards in their living environment. This helps them work towards alleviating the hazards early to avoid the risk of health problems associated with the risk.
Therefore, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are at a greater risk of facing many health challenges because they have lower level of education. The fact that the literacy levels are low means that majority of the Australia’s indigenous population are unaware of basic health services like the preventive care hence they experience frequent disease outbreaks (Pérez-Escamilla et al, 2008). In addition, many people in the communities may not be well informed about the importance of balanced diet and healthy food, therefore, becoming victims of poor dietary choices that risk a person’s general health.
Work is good for health and contributes to reduced cost on medical care. Employment offer people financial benefits in form of income which contribute greatly to physical and psychological well-being of the person (Biggs, et al, 2010). According to Zoeller (2008) the rate of unemployment among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was five times higher compared to non-indigenous Australian communities while 19% of the indigenous people lived below poverty line compared to the 12% of non-indigenous people.
Employment enables people to afford things like good nutrition, decent and safe housing as well as health care services which are important for improved health and well-being of an individual. However, the fact that the levels of unemployment among the indigenous people of Australia are high and many of them live below poverty line presents a precarious situation for the population. According to Biggs, et al. (2010) unemployment results to stress as people struggle to feed, clothe and pay bills for the families making poor unemployed individuals prone to illnesses. In addition, lack of sufficient income means that many people will not afford nutritious food thus malnutrition will always stare at them (Hoare and Machin, 2010). Use of poor housing also means poor sanitation thus posing a great risk to people’s health. Even in the face of all these health risk, the problem multiplies as unemployment makes it next to impossible for this population to afford health care services.
On the other hand, employed people have less medical burdens as they express less psychological trauma and can afford medical insurances that cover any health expenses. Thus employment contributes to improved health and well-being by promoting mental health through increasing self esteem and self worth of the individual (Hoare and Machin, 2010). Unemployment on the other hand makes people feel useless, and worthless and unwanted thus lowering self-esteem and confidence, therefore, affecting the mental health of the affected person.
Although employment is good for a person’s health, underemployment can be as dangerous as unemployment. Ho, Mathew and Anda (2009) say that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are underemployed as they hold lower jobs in comparison to non-indigenous counterparts with similar qualifications. As much as this category of people have income and thus can access better services compared to unemployed ones, they are likely to suffer from mental conditions like depression. This is occasioned by the feeling unworthiness and low self- esteem and discrimination which have negative effects to health and well-being.
Houses that are not well maintained or those that are of low standards are a direct or indirect threat to the health of the occupants. Housing is a critical factor that has great impact on the health and well-being of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Keall, et al, 2012). According to Zoeller (2008) research indicate that 27% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander live in overcrowded houses. Overcrowding increase the risk of health issues of occupants. People living in overcrowded houses are at a greater risk of contracting respiratory disorders, skin diseases and mental health. Overcrowding increases stress on health amenities like water and sewage system lowering the levels of sanitation hence exposing residents to the risk of waterborne diseases (Rohe and Han, 2012).
In addition to crowded houses, the condition of the house influences the health and well-being of the occupants. According to Bailie, Stevens and McDonald (2014) 40% of indigenous people in Australia live in houses that are substandard in terms of structural elements. For instance, living in houses that have major cracks exposes the occupants to dangers associated with elements of weather like wind and rain that affect the health. Houses that raise dampness increase the risk of having a cold and mouldy house that encourages respiratory diseases.
The type and condition of a house determines the availability of health infrastructure like clean water, waste disposal and electricity supply. According to Rohe and Han (2012) people living in low standard houses usually experience shortage of clean water regularly; therefore result to using water which may be contaminated as the quality is not verified. According to Bailie, Stevens and McDonald (2014) the majority of settlements for indigenous communities do not have organised sewage systems and many of them use septic tanks that leach drains. This practice exposes the residents to environmental contamination and eventually disease outbreaks as human waste disposal is poorly managed. In addition, disposal of rubbish is vital for health and well-being. However, research shows that most people who cannot afford quality housing do not have access to coordinated rubbish disposal services (Rohe and Han, 2012). Therefore, leading to hazardous disposal of rubbish in open fields in the neighbourhood, exposing residents to accidents like cuts from sharp objects and respiratory diseases due to foul smell of decomposing matter. This condition also attracts pests like rodents that act as disease vectors.
Therefore, housing plays a critical role in determining people’s health. The kind of house a family lives in is determined by their income which in turn determines the neighbourhood they will live in and therefore the kind of services and amenities they can access.
Lifestyle behaviour such as dietary practices, physical exercises, use of tobacco and alcohol consumption greatly affects the health status of people. According to Koelen (2007), education level and income influence people’s lifestyle and health. Unemployment is linked to poor lifestyle behaviour like alcoholism and smoking as people get stressed up and end up seeking solace in drugs. Smoking and alcoholism are habits that endanger the lives of those who partake as well as those around them (Seder, 2010). Tobacco in particular is associated with respiratory diseases like tuberculosis, bronchitis and lung cancer while alcoholism can lead to liver cirrhosis. The fact that the rate of illiteracy and unemployment are high among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders indicate that many people in these communities are at risk of engaging in substance and drug abuse due to stress and low self esteem (Minogue, 2016). Living in substandard and overcrowded housed compounds the problem as other occupants become victims for instance of physical abuse or secondary smoking.
Diet and nutrition is another aspect of health and well-being that is affected by behaviour and lifestyle. People who abuse drugs cannot make rational decision about the kind of food they take. Therefore, in this category of people result to eating nutritionally unbalanced food this affects the body’s immunity in the long term. In addition, drug abusers use the little income they have on their addictions leaving nothing to buy food thus exposing dependants to malnutrition (Dammann and Smith, 2009). On the other hand, those who do not smoke nor take alcohol may become victims of overeating and consumption of junk food because they lack basic health education. Due to high level of poverty among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, people may not afford to purchase foods like fruits and vegetables which supply the body with essential vitamins and minerals.
In addition, physical activities and regular exercising play an important role in promoting health and well-being of people (Tremblay, et al, 2010). Taking part in physical activities keep the body fit thus preventing conditions such as obesity that increase the risk of heart conditions (Tremblay, et al, 2010). However, this practice is a dream to low income earners as the environment which they live in does not allow nor does it entertain exercising due to lack of appropriate facility. Further, the lack of adequate education among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make it hard for the people to understand the importance of regular exercises. Therefore, many in these communities may suffer from diseases and conditions that can be prevented through exercising.
Socio-economic factors like education, employment, housing and lifestyle behaviour have a lot of impact on the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The fact that many indigenous Australians have low educational level means that the level of knowledge on matters about health is low. Therefore many are prone to making poor health related decisions. The level of education also affects the amount of income one can make. This is the reason a high percentage of indigenous people are living below poverty line. Low income level and unemployment will only lead to low standard housing. All this factors work together to compromise the kind of lifestyle behaviour these people can adopt to cope with hardships and eventually compromise the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Altindag, D., Cannonier, C. and Mocan, N., 2011. The impact of education on health knowledge. Economics of Education Review, 30(5), pp.792-812.
Bailie, R.S., Stevens, M. and McDonald, E.L., 2014. Impact of housing improvement and the socio-physical environment on the mental health of children’s carers: a cohort study in Australian Aboriginal communities. BMC public health, 14(1), p.472.
Biggs, B., King, L., Basu, S. and Stuckler, D., 2010. Is wealthier always healthier? The impact of national income level, inequality, and poverty on public health in Latin America. Social science & medicine, 71(2), pp.266-273.
Dammann, K.W. and Smith, C., 2009. Factors affecting low-income women's food choices and the perceived impact of dietary intake and socioeconomic status on their health and weight. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 41(4), pp.242-253.
Ho, G., Mathew, K. and Anda, M., 2009. Sustainability of indigenous communities in Australia: Selected papers from the National Conference held at Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, 12-14 July 2006. Murdoch University.
Hoare, P.N. and Machin, M.A., 2010. The impact of reemployment on access to the latent and manifest benefits of employment and mental health. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83(3), pp.759-770.
Keall, M.D., Crane, J., Baker, M.G., Wickens, K., Howden-Chapman, P. and Cunningham, M., 2012. A measure for quantifying the impact of housing quality on respiratory health: a cross-sectional study. Environmental Health, 11(1), p.33.
Koelen, M.A., 2007. Lifestyle and health. Changing families and their lifestyles, pp.295-302.
Minogue, C.C., 2016. Cognitive decline in Aboriginal Australians: The impact of education and early life factors.
Nair, E.L. and Cienkowski, K.M., 2010. The impact of health literacy on patient understanding of counseling and education materials. International Journal of Audiology, 49(2), pp.71-75.
Pérez-Escamilla, R., Hromi-Fiedler, A., Vega-López, S., Bermúdez-Millán, A. and Segura-Pérez, S., 2008. Impact of peer nutrition education on dietary behaviors and health outcomes among Latinos: a systematic literature review. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 40(4), pp.208-225.
Pink, B. and Allbon, P., 2008. The health and welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Rohe, W.M. and Han, H.S., 2012. Housing and health. North Carolina medical journal, 73(5), pp.374-380.
Seder, D.L., 2010. Impact of substance abuse risk, age, gender, and comorbidity status on behavioral health treatment utilization and cost. Temple University.
Tremblay, M.S., Colley, R.C., Saunders, T.J., Healy, G.N. and Owen, N., 2010. Physiological and health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 35(6), pp.725-740.
Zoeller, R., 2008. Closing the Gap-the Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, 32(2), p.4.
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