Language a factor in Aboriginal obesity

October 30, 2015 by Rob Payne, Sciencenetwork Wa
Language a factor in Aboriginal obesity
Unlike a western diet loaded with fat and sugar, traditional Aboriginal diets were high in carbohydrates, protein and nutrients, centring on hunted animals that produced lean meat. Credit: Rusty Stewart

Australian aboriginals who use their own language at home are less likely to be obese than those who speak only English.

University of Western Australia research found those who spoke Noongar, Yindjibarndi, Nyangumarta or similar languages had a 27 per cent chance of being obese compared to 34.1 per cent for those who spoke only English.

"This may imply that members of the Indigenous population who have stronger ties to their origin have a lower prevalence of than members who have adapted to more Western cultures," UWA's Dr Elisa Birch says.

She hypothesises language is an indicator of individuals engaging in more traditional lifestyles, including in-part how they eat.

Unlike a western diet loaded with fat and sugar, traditional Aboriginal diets were high in carbohydrates, protein and nutrients, centring on hunted animals that produced lean meat.

This was supplemented with plant foods such as yams, bush tomatoes, figs, quandong, nuts, seeds, roots and tubers, which are high in fibre and carbohydrates that our bodies digest and absorb slowly.

"There may be some value in policies aimed at teaching traditional Indigenous diets to the wider Indigenous population," Dr Birch says.

However, Aboriginal obesity is far more complex than diet, combining genetics, social attitudes, socio-economic factors such as income and behaviours such as exercise and smoking.

Together these can help explain why Aboriginal men are 1.6 times more likely, and Aboriginal women 2.2 times more likely, to be obese than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.

Answers key to solving wider health problems

Finding answers is important given obesity's connection with health problems, Dr Birch says.

"This is especially the case for Indigenous Australians whereby nearly 50 per cent of the population who are obese suffer from diabetes and 43 per cent suffer from heart and circulatory diseases," she says.

Overall, her research involved 3880 Aboriginal Australians.

It found those who walked regularly were less likely to be obese, as were those who ate fruit, those who lived with two or more children and individuals who weren't married.

Smokers were less likely to be obese, possibly due to smoking raising the metabolic rate.

The research determined study participants living in in socioeconomically advantaged neighbourhoods were far less likely to be obese than those in disadvantaged areas.

This could be due to healthier neighbourhood options in shops and restaurants, the effect of peers or simply individuals being able to afford better food, Dr Birch says.

Explore further: One in four NSW school kids are overweight or obese

Related Stories

One in four NSW school kids are overweight or obese

June 16, 2014
Nearly one in four New South Wales school children are overweight or obese according to a University of Sydney study reported in today's Medical Journal of Australia.

New research reveals obese individuals can't switch off from food

September 17, 2015
A new study has revealed what many health care professionals have long suspected, that obese individuals have a specific difficulty in directing their own attention away from unhealthy foods, when compared to the rest of ...

Aboriginal communities have world's highest dementia incidence

August 20, 2015
Research by The University of Western Australia's Centre for Health and Ageing has confirmed that the incidence of dementia in remote Aboriginal communities is the highest in the world, with head injuries and age the greatest ...

Nutrition an issue for Indigenous Australians

August 6, 2014
Nutrition has not been given enough priority in national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy in recent years.

Understanding lung disease in aboriginal Australians

March 2, 2015
A new study has confirmed that Aboriginal Australians have low forced vital capacity—or the amount of air that can be forcibly exhaled from the lungs after taking the deepest breath possible. The finding may account for ...

Recommended for you

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.