Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Policy Influences Affecting the Food Practices of Indigenous Australians since Colonisation

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Policy Influences Affecting the Food Practices of Indigenous Australians since Colonisation

Article excerpt

Abstract: Aboriginal Australians face a range of health challenges, which can be linked to dietary-related factors. A higher prevalence of dietary-related illness, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and renal disease, exists among Aboriginal people. This paper examines factors affecting the food practices of Aboriginal Australians since colonisation and contrasts these with the sustainable food practices of Aboriginal people prior to permanent European occupation. Significant shifts in policy and other factors affecting food and eating practices in Australia have occurred over the past 200 years. Influential overlapping historical epochs identified include the pre-colonial, colonial, protection and assimilation periods, as well as the influence of the industrialisation of food production. The literature review draws on historical sources and policies that highlight the impact of the changing food identities of Aboriginal people that affect dietary-related illness. The paper concludes with some implications for food and nutrition policies. Evidence drawn from these findings indicates that further progress is required to inform the development of culturally appropriate food policies to address the dietary-related health issues of Aboriginal people.

Introduction

This is an interpretive inquiry that, first, seeks to understand the food practices of Australian Aboriginal people in a historical, cultural and political framework and, second, to identify and examine the impact of each major policy epoch on Aboriginal food practices and identities. These insights are then used to understand the contemporary pattern of Aboriginal Australian food and eating practices and implications for contemporary food policy. The significance of this analysis is first established in an examination of the current health crisis affecting Aboriginal communities and links to food practices. The paper demonstrates that the food practices of Aboriginal people are subject to privileging of dominant food practices, colonial control and power. Drawing from a postcolonial theoretical perspective, we identify that the high prevalence of dietary-related illness among Aboriginal people is linked to the historical legacy of the colonial struggle and the consequences of continuous postcolonial policies. This research could be used to develop culturally relevant food and nutrition programs and policies.

Life expectancy of Indigenous Australians

The gap in the life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is a continuing source of national concern. Life expectancy at birth for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males is estimated to be 67.2 years, 11.5 years less than life expectancy for non-Indigenous males (78.7 years) (ABS 2011). Life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females is estimated to be 72.9 years, 9.7 years less than life expectancy for non-Indigenous females (82.6 years) (ABS 2011). Table 1 provides a summary of the life expectancy status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Estimated life expectancy differs across states and territories. For Indigenous males, life expectancy is highest in New South Wales (69.9 years) and lowest in the Northern Territory (61.5 years). A similar pattern exists for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females, with the highest life expectancy in New South Wales (75.0 years) and the lowest in the Northern Territory (69.2 years) (ABS 2011). Differences in estimates of life expectancy between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians are greatest in the Northern Territory (14.2 years for males and 11.9 years for females) and Western Australia (14.0 years for males and 12.5 years for females) (ABS 2011).

The death rate for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups is up to 46 times higher than that of the non-Indigenous population (ABS and AIHW 2008). Patterns of disease, injury and suicide rates are often examined in order to understand the disparity between the average life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians. …

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