Evidence of Effective Interventions to Improve the Social and Environmental Factors Impacting on Health

Sporting and Cultural Program / Facilities for Young People

Informing the development of Indigenous Community Agreements

Page last updated: 12 August 2013


The only Australian study which described health outcomes associated with sporting facilities is the WA swimming pool study (Lehmann et al, 2003) which was discussed in the swimming pool section. No other Australian or international studies were identified which described the effect of sports facilities in Indigenous communities on health, physical activity or other relevant outcomes.

Sports Programs

Swan-Nyungar sports education Program, Perth, WA (Elderfield and louden, 2005)

This school-based sports and education program for selected Indigenous students at Balga High School in Perth commenced in 2002 with the aim of enhancing school attendance and retention. The program incorporates cooperative group work and Nyungar language and gender roles to improve the cultural appropriateness for local Nyungar students. The timetable has fewer, longer classes. Sports participation is emphasised in all areas. There is individual mentoring of students by staff from a dedicated unit. The outcomes were evaluated by comparison with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at the school (Level III-2). Participants in the program had higher attendance rates: 70-86% in years 8-10 compared to 42-47% for other Aboriginal students in Years 8-10 at the school in 2004. This was comparable to the attendance for non-Indigenous Year 8-10 students (83-85%). The retention among the 66 students in the program has been variable. It ranged from 53% of year 8 boys completing the year compared to 100% of Year 9 girls and Year 10 boys in 2004. This was improved compared to retention rates of 47-70% in the program in 2003. There was no improvement in literacy or numeracy on standard testing of program students.

Traditional Indigenous games, Cape York, Qld (Higgins, 2005)

In this program two Indigenous facilitators trained physical education teachers and selected high school students from the Cape York region to conduct a range of traditional Indigenous games. Each primary school had an Indigenous cultural day incorporating these games. Overall there were 500 school students who participated. An evaluation of 110 students and 5 teachers who participated in the day (Level IV) showed that 78 were keen to play games in the future. All the teachers were confident in their ability to organise the games in the future. The conclusions from the evaluation of this program were that local engagement was enhanced by describing the activities as “games” and that equipment should be low cost and easily replicated. The program had the potential to engage more with the community by including children of all ages.

National Indigenous 3 on 3 Challenge, Australia (Minter et al, 2001)

A basketball competition was conducted for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (<18 years) in 10 regional areas in 2000. There was an evaluation of 248 participants from four regions. The reported outcomes were that the competition encouraged healthy lifestyles and most of the young people were still playing basketball at a three month follow-up. The participants recommended that more cultural input would improve the sport program. Top of page

The Vibe 3 on 3 has now become an annual event for Indigenous youth which incorporates 3 on 3 basketball, a hip hop challenge, art and cultural performances (Vibe Australia, 2006). The event promotes self-esteem and healthy lifestyles amongst participants. Weekend events are held at a number of regional locations each year.

Measuring the Health and social Impact of sport and Recreation in Indigenous Communities (Beneforti & Cunningham, 2002)

Beneforti & Cunningham reviewed selected programs and the literature to develop indicators that could be used to measure the health and social impact of sport and recreation programs in Indigenous communities. They identified a number of Australian case studies which had reported improvements in community functioning as a result of sport and recreation program. Examples of this include the Australian Football League Kickstart Program on Groote Eylandt, NT which was associated with increased school attendance and the opening of a Police Citizen’s Youth Club in Yarrabah, Qld in 1996 which was associated with a reduction in property crime, assault and youth suicide. Substance misuse including petrol sniffing, alcohol and cannabis use among young people were all reported to have decreased as a result of sport and recreation programs in remote communities. Appropriate indicators to assess the impacts of sport and recreation programs include episodes of youth crime and school attendance. The relevance of these indicators is supported by limited research evidence and through consultation with Indigenous community representatives. The effectiveness of sport and recreation programs is also dependent on community engagement and sustained relationship between program staff and community members.

International Experience

Pathways obesity Prevention, united states (Going et al, 2003)

This large school based study in seven American Indian communities involved 1704 students from 41 schools was conducted over 3 years. School staff were supported to increase the frequency and quality of physical education classes and activity breaks with at least 3 sessions of 30 minutes per week and daily recess breaks. A range of traditional games were incorporated into physical education classes. This was one component of a healthy lifestyle program (see Nutrition chapter). Evaluation of the outcomes was undertaken with a randomised controlled trial (Level 2) of 580 students from the schools. Each child’s physical activity was measured using an accelerometer over 24 hours. This showed a 10% increase in activity (not significant) in students from intervention schools. It was suggested that physical activity should have been measured over a longer interval and other measures of impact could also have been used.

Cultural Programs

Croc eisteddfod Festival, Weipa, Qld (Allard, et al, 2001)

This cultural and music festival in 2000 provided an opportunity for primary school students from the Cape York area to perform in front of a large audience. Each school group did a performance based on a healthy lifestyles theme with the emphasis on participation. There was a qualitative evaluation involving focus groups including children, teachers and parents. The outcomes reported include increased community connectedness, increased knowledge of drug effects, increased self-esteem due to public performance and increased school attendance (no data). A decrease in anti-social activity in the communities prior to the festival was also reported. The Croc Festival has become an annual event that is staged at multiple sites around Australia with the 2005 festival involving 18, 843 students from 416 schools (Global Rock Challenge, 2006). It now incorporates musical, cultural and sporting performances accompanied by employment, health and lifestyle promotions and activities. Top of page

Native American Health Center’s Youth services Programs, United States (Aguilera & Plasencia, 2005)

The Youth Services Program at the Native American Health Centre in Oakland, California commenced in 1989. It is based on a holistic model that aims to incorporate Native American wellness concepts. A focus of the program is to provide HIV/AIDS and substance misuse prevention programs targeted at young people aged 9-22. One component of the program is the annual Gathering of Native Americans where Native American youth share cultural enrichment exercises and wellness education.

There are experiential activities to promote positive change in themselves, their families and communities. There was a survey of the 29 participants in 2004 (Level IV). Of these, 83% reported increased understanding of Native American culture and 79% reported they felt more connected to the Native American community and would become more involved in community activities. Fifty-five percent reported improved drug refusal skills.

The Seventh Native American Generation (SNAG) is an annual event to celebrate the publication of the SNAG magazine. This magazine, written and edited by Native American youth, showcases the experiences of young Native Americans. The community event includes traditional cultural activities involving dance and music and contemporary cultural activities. The themes of substance misuse are prominent during the event. in 2003 over 200 youth and their families participated. A survey of 34 young people was conducted (Level IV). They reported increased knowledge of the dangers of unsafe sex (86%) and HIV (80%). Eighty nine percent indicated they would become more involved in community activities.


Sporting activities are prominent in Australia and other countries and physical activity is an important factor for people’s health. Despite this there is limited evidence of the health impacts of sport specifically on Indigenous people. In Australia, improving access to sports facilities is one strategy to reduce the disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. However, no Australian or international studies were identified which described the impact of sports facilities.

There was also very limited evidence of the effects of sports programs involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. Sports programs appear to have the capacity to engage young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As a result, these programs may be associated with improved school attendance, decreased substance misuse and decreased youth crime. If the impacts of sporting programs are sustained then this should improve the health and educational attainment of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. However, no evidence of such outcomes was identified. There are many programs that are mentioned in the grey literature and it would be useful if these were formally evaluated to increase the understanding of the benefits of sporting programs. The Pathways program in the United States highlights the challenges of conducting effective school physical activity interventions and the importance of designing the evaluation to adequately assess the impacts.

Evidence of the impact of cultural programs is even more limited. However, the success of the Croc Festival in engaging young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians demonstrates the potential for such programs to have positive impacts similar to sporting programs. There is clearly a need for evaluation of future programs. Top of page