Module 2: perspectives on working with young people: facilitator's guide

5.4 A youth health issue in focus: Indigenous youth health

Page last updated: 2004

The holistic model of youth health discussed earlier in this module can also be used to highlight the broad range of factors influencing the health of Indigenous young people. For Indigenous people the effects of colonisation have had a profound effect on their health outcomes.

Brainstorm/group activity
The health of Indigenous young people
Health issues
Distance learners

Brainstorm/group activity

Question: List some of the factors that influence the health of Indigenous young people. Consider the factors identified in the holistic model of youth health.

The health of Indigenous young people

  • There are 83,427 young Indigenous people in Australia aged between 10 and 24 years.

  • From 1788 the Indigenous population lost control of their health and wellbeing as white colonisation removed their existing traditional ways of nutrition, medical care and appropriate lifestyles.

  • For many their place of living, hygiene, water supply, diet and housing are still largely determined by politicians, administrators and others not necessarily informed about their culture.

  • Indigenous health is often dealt with by trying to 'fix' social problems with medical solutions.

  • The most common diseases do not have a single cause and are often the results of an interaction of the psycho-social environment and practices relating to diet and exercise.

Health issues

  • In childhood, particularly in remote areas, the individual often contracts infections affecting the respiratory and digestive organs.

  • These infections may damage the lungs in conjunction with smoking (chronic respiratory disease is the leading cause of death among middle-aged Indigenous people).

  • A report from South Australia found the leading cause of hospital admissions for 0-4 year olds was respiratory disease with 43 percent of these patients being admitted more than once Top of page

  • Other infections such as gastroenteritis with resulting malnutrition and anaemia, repeated streptococcal throat infections and rheumatic fever is also a cause of life-threatening illness.

  • Death from accidents was 2.2 times higher in the Indigenous population in children under the age of 14 years.

  • The same report found that suicide accounted for virtually all the increase in deaths among 15-19 year old Indigenous and non-Indigenous males with hanging being the method used in the majority of cases.
Barrett and Scrimgeour (1989) found the following diseases related to the physical environment, social and mental conditions, and poor nutrition and exercise habits.
  • Physical environment (0-20 years)
    • Diarrhoeal disease
    • Respiratory infection
    • Eye and ear infections
    • Skin infections
    • Rheumatic Fever
  • Social/mental environment (15-50 years)
    • Alcohol/substance use
    • STDs*
    • Trauma
    • Mental illness
    • Stress related problems
  • Nutrition/exercise (30+ years)
    • Diabetes
    • Hyperlipidaemia
    • Ischaemic heart disease
    • Renal disease

Bartlett & Scrimgeour, 1989
* STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) are more prevalent among Indigenous adolescents and young adults.

Alcohol and other drugs

Patterns of use alter with geography.

Nutrition and eating

  • Indigenous children in remote areas are lighter and shorter than children who live in towns
  • On the other hand Indigenous youth are now suffering from obesity and related diabetes.


Top of page

Overhead transparency 1

  • Frontline workers have a responsibility to provide information on health issues to young people

  • This is particularly important in reducing harm related to risk-taking behaviours such as experimentation with drugs or unsafe sex. Youth health issues are influenced by a range of factors related to the individual, family, peers, culture, spirituality, community, society/politics and the environment

  • Many illnesses affecting young people are preventable

  • Many issues uniquely impact on Indigenous Australians. These include nutrition and drug and alcohol use

  • To reduce harm, frontline workers have a responsibility to provide information on health issues to young people particularly in relation to drug use and sexual behaviour.

Overhead transparency 2

Provide information to young people in relation to health issues
  • Risk-taking behaviours such as experimentation with:
    • drugs
    • unsafe sex.
  • Youth health issues influenced by:
    • individual
    • family
    • peers
    • culture
    • spirituality
    • community
    • society/politics
    • environment.
  • Many illnesses are preventable
  • Many issues uniquely impact on Indigenous Australians:
    • nutrition
    • drug and alcohol use.

Distance learners

(A good point for student to contact facilitator.)

Distance learners have been advised to make contact with you, the facilitator, to check their learning progress.