Aboriginal health through empowerment

Despite efforts to close the gap, Indigenous Australians continue to suffer more than double the disease burden of the total Australian population. 

Most of this health gap is caused by preventable chronic diseases.

A new book, Promoting Aboriginal Health: The Family Wellbeing Empowerment Approach, aims to shed light on the issue and offer a way forward through empowering Aboriginal Australians to take control of their own health and lives.

Book co-author, La Trobe University’s Dr Mary Whiteside, said ‘There’s a dire lack of research on what the concept of empowerment means in practice – and how people can be supported to make choices to participate fully in education, work and look after their health.

'This book is 12 years in the making – researching Aboriginal people’s own efforts for change.’  

The Family Wellbeing program provides a powerful example. Developed by Aboriginal Australians, this program promotes analytical skills that help participants confront complex problems through spirituality, problem solving and conflict resolution techniques.    

The program has been delivered to more than 3300 participants across Australia. The book details how it has enhanced people’s capacity to take control of their lives and make healthy changes for themselves and their families.

Dr Whiteside said the authors have received feedback from participants such as, Now I can love my wife and children because I love myselfI see life has opportunities and choicesNow I don’t drink that much, I’ve got money in the house’.

The Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research, incorporating the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, has been a long standing supporter of research into the Family Wellbeing program.

The Institute’s Chairperson, Dr Pat Anderson said, ‘As Aboriginal people we need to have a sense of agency in our lives, that we are not stray leaves blowing about in the wind. In a word, we need empowerment.’ 

The book is a call for action to professionals, policy makers and researchers. Despite gaps in health, education and employment, Aboriginal Australians are making remarkable efforts to empower themselves.

‘To move forward we need to identify what people are already doing, mobilize public policy to enable these efforts and build evidence for what actually works. Towards this end the Lowitja Institute is pleased to support the launch of this important book,’ Dr Anderson said.

Media contact

Two of the authors, Dr Mary Whiteside (La Trobe University) and Professor Komla Tsey (James Cook University) are available for comment.

Contact Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications: 041 226 1919 | E e.raetz@latrobe.edu.au