Eat Strong: Good Food for Health

September 15, 2020 by No Comments

Hello, I’m Daniel Browning. Eating good, nutritious food is essential for growing, healthy bodies. Poor diet leads to chronic disease, and is a contributing factor to the life-expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. We know that if we can improve nutrition in pregnant mothers and young kids, our people will be healthier.

A balanced, healthy diet combined with regular physical activity and no smoking helps us all to live longer. In this program, we’ll look at three great projects that are helping to improve nutrition in Aboriginal communities. Tucker Buddies is a school-based program in Bulla in the Northern Territory. Who’s your favourite Tucker Buddy? Put your hand up. In northern New South Wales, the Bulgarr Ngaru Medical Aboriginal Corporation provides subsidised fruit and vegetables, health checks and nutrition education to families.

At the Kimberley Training Institute in Broome, they’re organising horticultural courses to assist with the establishment of community gardens. We’ll also talk to Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver and Anthea Fawcett. Let’s go first to Bulla, a remote Aboriginal community west of Katherine to see what the Katherine West Health Board, the community and the local school are doing to improve the diet and the health of their kids. There’s a lot of challenges trying to develop any kind of program, especially in remote communities.

If you don’t have the relationships with the community members, the program is not going to succeed. Some of the main reasons why the Tucker Buddies program developed here at Bulla school is concerns from the actual parents as well as community members and the school about the balance and adequacy of the dietary intake of the school-age kids here. When I was a kid, my father, my mother used to hunt for healthy food in the ground, pick up some yams or whatever. That wasn’t bad food, it was very healthy.

That’s the reason all the people in my day, they were very healthy. Chronic disease in Aboriginal communities is really high. One of the main reasons why we’re targeting nutrition is to help them to keep their diabetes under control, so that people who have got the genetics to get diabetes will not get it so early in life. You’ve all filled up your drink bottles today? CHILDREN: Yes. What I want you to do is get out your Tucker Buddies book, please. I’d like you to get a coloured pencil, and colour in if you’ve had your fruit and your water on the Monday. Colour in if you’ve had your fruit and water on the Tuesday.

The Tucker Buddies program kind of initially started with the workbook, which is the main resource they use, which is also burned onto a CD for teachers to use as an education resource in the school. The cut-outs really work well. The kids can see the corn, the cheese, the eggs, the fish and think, is that an everyday food or is it a sometimes food? That’s really great for these kids, because instead of seeing words, it’s all visual. It’s fantastic for that. The kids really love the fruit mascots that they came up with. They like seeing that their ideas are in the book. CAROL: A lot of the kids have been involved with the whole development side of thing. As part of the art program at school, they drew pictures around potential characters to represent the Tucker Buddy program. Through that, we came up with our five Tucker Buddy characters.

Each of the kids have got a favourite character that they can identify with. Who’s your favourite Tucker Buddy? Put your hand up. – Peter. – Peter the Pear? – Banana. – Bendy Banana? They’re constantly asking, when is fruit coming? Because they know that they get it at recess. It’s great to see them sitting down waiting, and enjoying every bit of fruit that we give them. A lot of the people here in the Bulla community grew up on Auvergne Station. Back in the old days, their diet used to be beef, bread, damper and potatoes. That’s filtered through to the younger generation. Now it’s slowly changing. We’ve got a better range, a better variety. People are starting to taste different foods, and they’re adapting to it. So we thread the chicken.

Then we can get… CHILDREN: Zucchini. Zucchini. Then we get… CHILDREN: Chicken. – And then we get? CHILDREN: Onion. – And then? CHILDREN: Chicken. CAROL: The kids have definitely learned a lot more about different types of vegetables and ingredients that they can use for cooking. They bring those skills home and share those with their family. So hopefully that message is getting through to their parents as well. How does it make us feel when we eat this food? CHILD: Yummy. – Healthy. CHILD: Energy. – It gives us energy. That’s right. What do we need energy for? – Running around and doing stuff.

– Yep. What about at school? CHILD: Work. – Work. Good boy. That’s right. CAROL: Having that constant flow of nutrition education every couple of weeks has really made nutrition a priority or focal point within the community. When we started the Tucker Buddies program, we did notice there was a high rate of consumption of fizzy drinks. – Have you noticed any… – They drink a lot more water. DAMIEN: They’ve got their own ones with their names on them. Every kid’s got one, it’s fantastic. – In the classroom? – Sitting on the desk, every day. ZOE: It keeps them rehydrated, especially in this weather, up here in the Northern Territory.

They’re constantly drinking. It stops them from needing that fizzy drink. All the answers we need to know are going to be down here. CAROL: Through interviews with the teachers, they say they’ve noticed improvements in concentration and behaviour with the kids, after their lunchbreak, coming back a lot more ready, and concentrating in class. Right up at the top, up here, what does this say? Can you tell me anything you’ve learned about food labels? The ingredients list. CAROL: What the kids eat now will undoubtedly impact on their state of health later in life. So developing good eating habits and making informed choices around healthy food is definitely part of the growth and development of a child. – Lisa Jackson Pulver, welcome.

Thank you. What do you think are the good things about the Tucker Buddies project? It’s about kids, and kids are great influencers. They go home and they share with their parents and their family members and community what they’ve learned at school. Something that’s so engaging and so full of colour and life and story and song is sure to get the attention and attraction of people at home. What do you think then are some of the challenges though for people in remote communities accessing good food? It’s really tough when you’re looking at sometimes the most remote communities in the world.

We somehow manage to get frozen food there, junk food, that’s in perfect shape. But when it comes to getting a few head of broccolis and tomatoes, it seems utterly impossible. It’s critically important that we support the message of – fresh is best, as well as supporting the message that bush tucker has supported people for 60,000-plus years. People were not nutritionally disadvantaged in those early days. We need to start taking some lessons from the land. Thanks, Lisa. Let’s see what the Bulgarr Ngaru Aboriginal Medical Corporation is doing to improve the health and nutrition of families in the Clarence Valley in New South Wales.

Fresh fruit-and-vegetable boxes, advice on cooking and nutrition and regular health checks make the difference. What’s in this one here? MAN: The fruit and vegetable program was established initially as a school-based program out at Baryulgil, a small, Aboriginal community school about 80km away from Grafton. When we looked at the diet of the children attending the school – there’s about 20 children there, all the Aboriginal children – their diet was fairly poor. So we decided to do some studies.

We found that every child was deficient in vitamin C and about 75% were deficient in iron as well. Some banana. Initially there was fruit at the school, then meals were offered at the school, then a garden developed. So it was a whole nutritional package at the school. It seemed to make a big difference to the kids’ health over a 6- to 12-month period. As a result of the success of that, it was expanded to the other communities we serve, the towns in the Clarence Valley – Grafton, Maclean, Yamba. It was much more difficult to target the children, because they’re only a small percentage of the children at each of the schools in those towns. Then it changed to become a family-based fruit and vegetable subsidy program. – G’day, Deb. – G’day. –

How are you going today? – Good, thanks. – I’ve got your box ready. – Beautiful. ANDREW BLACK: We identified people who seem to have the most need from a health perspective but also from a nutritional and financial perspective, most likely to benefit from a program such as this. How are you going? You here to fix up your AMS? Yes, thanks. As part of the program, they come and have a health assessment. While they’re having health assessments, they’ll also have hearing checks if it’s indicated they haven’t been done. Hello. Also, we have a dentist. We offer dental check-ups as well.

They have dental check-ups, and we have dieticians who work here, so we can refer them to a dietician. I also am doing a PhD, looking specifically at the fruit and vegetable program, and an evaluation of that. We try to do some kind of short program in each community in the Clarence Valley at some time through the year. This group in Maclean, we have a lot of the elders come. Some of the younger people drop in as well. We’d like to get more of the younger people coming in, especially the mums with young children.

We provide lots of healthy ingredients. There’s usually lots of vegetables and fruit. We try and promote some of the healthier cooking methods, or we might try to change some old favourites. I just love it, and it’s good time to myself. When you’ve got three kids, you don’t have time to yourself. Sometimes when they want to help, it’s good for them. It gets them interested in healthy eating too, especially the vegies. My daughters, they’re cooking with bok choy now and things like that. They’re experimenting.

The more that we can get into schools and teach our children, this becomes a part of their life. OK. What have we got today? Today we’re going out to Baryulgil School, we’ll cook with the children out there. Since we started the nutrition program, we’ve noticed dramatic improvements in their health. We want to maintain those improvements. Each week, Carol, one of the teachers, cooks a healthy lunch on a Tuesday. They will try different things if we encourage them, and the staff at the school are very good at encouraging them. When I asked them in previous sessions if they cook at home, they all say they do help out at home.

Could you please wash this lettuce for me? MAN: I’ve been a doctor for 30 years. It’s the most dramatic thing that I’ve seen in my medical career in terms of a simple intervention providing such a great health outcome. Doc couldn’t believe it, because no more scripts had to be written out. This program could go into any other schools that have got Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal kids that have problems with their skin – sores, ears, the runny noses. The kids were interested in getting in and planting some vegies. If we can grow our own here and use that, it’s also a good skill that the kids can learn. ANDREW BLACK: In terms of the outcomes, there are a number of things that we found. We did blood testing and diet histories which showed that the children’s nutrition seemed to improve while they were on the program.

In the short-term, there were 30% – 50% decreases in the rates of attendances to the hospital emergency department in terms of skin infections and in terms of the numbers of antibiotics that were prescribed. We think these are not just statistically significant but also clinically relevant improvements in the children’s health. – Can I have an apple? – Yeah. Can you get me one too, please? Do you think Bulgarr Ngaru is heading in the right direction? Absolutely. They’re taking advantage of a few really important things – number one, the passion and understanding of the local, Aboriginal community-controlled health service about the needs of their people. Two, they’re taking understanding and knowledge from the school about what the kids need.

And three, they’re taking on board the passion of the children to keep energetic and enthused and engaged with a program like the fruit and vegetable campaign. More generally, what do you think needs to be done now to improve our health, our nutrition? What the evidence suggests is, if kids are engaged in healthy life practices and healthy life choices really early, they will continue through that. We know that the program in Bulgarr Ngaru works. Rolling that out into other contexts is not rocket science. It’s a really simple thing to do.

Anything from breakfast programs to kids before school all the way through to the fruit and vegetable program once a week for families, you have to engage the kids, but at the end of day it’s the community that benefits, because you can’t feed kids and not family and community. Why do you think Bulgarr Ngaru works so well? – Why is it a success? – It’s simple. It’s a community-controlled organisation that’s very connected and embedded in its community. It listens very strongly.

It’s all about the people saying, this is what we want, and the community-controlled organisation saying, yes, here’s a need, let’s do it. Thanks, Lisa. Now let’s look at an education program that addresses the availability of fresh food in remote communities. The horticulture courses run in Broome teach students about growing fresh food and cultivating nutritious bush tucker. The courses develop gardening skills, and aim to establish sustainable food enterprises in remote communities. MAN:

It’s been recognised for quite a few years now that we’ve got diet-related health problems in remote communities, we’ve got all sorts of social problems with people needing to do things. We could see as horticulturalists, as gardeners, that setting up food gardens was an answer. So we run a horticultural training program which includes certificates 1 through to 4, a very practical training program which is all about encouraging the growth and development of community food gardens, fresh-food gardens, particularly geared towards remote, Aboriginal communities.

This is a gubinge tree, flowering in our new season. When we started doing it, there was this feeling that, you can’t grow food in remote communities. It’s too hard. We tried to do it before. The plants weren’t watered and they died. But that to me was a challenge. We’ve got wonderful technology of irrigation, automatic watering systems. Through training, we were able to install those watering systems, demonstrate that yes, you can grow things. That was one of the more satisfying parts of it all. Just patience.

Take your time. There’s no rush. We’ve got a number of students that have maintained a long-term association with us. Merridoo Waibidi is one who is there now, from Bidyadanga. He is of the last traditional people to come out of the Great Sandy Desert. He’s really embraced this, which has been very encouraging for us, to have traditional people embrace it and support what we’re doing. Thousands of years, people are living on the food until today. That tree over there is always a healthy tree, always a healthy tree.

You live off the land, you live off here, this food. They’re always healthy, and you don’t get diabetes or whatever, kidney or heart. That’s what our main aim is, showing our young ones. We don’t want to see our young generation or anyone ending up with that. Have a look. Is that your little sugarbag bees? Yeah. Sugarbag. This is basically a taster. It’s not a big area at all. It’s only less than an acre, but it’s a model of what people can do. We’ve got a range of local bush plants, we’ve got mangoes, we’ve got all sorts of fruit and veg that we rotate through the year. A lot of the green leafy stuff during the dry season – peas, beans, corn, sweet potatoes. You might come here and pick up food, and it’s always fresh,

you know? What they grow here is here about a month. People can come and get food and take him home. It’s healthy, you know? We’ll show you how to grow your conventional fruit and vegies, but we also started working with traditional people who were telling us about their traditional plants. Growing the gubinge has been a really remarkable story. We started growing a few here and there, and in the meantime, this great interest came through with gubinge researched by the CSIRO. They confirmed its wonderful nutritional value, its wonderful antioxidant levels. So suddenly we found ourselves in the right place at the right time, having pioneered the cultivation of this bush fruit. Suddenly it was something that everyone wanted more of.

This is another great success for us, in that we’re doing a culturally appropriate plant, working together with Indigenous people in an area that’s really presenting some great commercial potential. I’ve put them in the ground, on the land, and I can see what I’ve achieved myself, and I’m proud of it. Working in horticulture, with TAFE, there’s plenty to do. KIM: This is an answer, and to really make it go and to really make it work, we’ve got to create jobs in communities. We’ve got to create businesses. Remote communities spend a fortune on bringing in fruit and vegies that’s poor-quality, very expensive.

We need people to see that, and to really recognise this as a way of doing something useful and positive. You can’t expect people who are just working for the dole to keep going year after year, which is what’s been happening – not getting any real jobs out of it. We need to create positions where people we’ve trained can go back to a community and get a paid job. Then we can keep supporting them. That’s the missing link at the moment. We really embrace that whole idea, and there’s no reason why communities right across Australia can’t have this, and it can’t become part of the culture in years to come, and I think it will. But we’ve got to push it. It won’t happen by itself. You know, just do it step by step and you get there.

Anthea Fawcett, welcome. – Thanks, Daniel. What do you think the benefits are of these horticulture courses? These courses are really good on a range of fronts, most importantly, done in a local area with its own particular growing conditions and so on. They demonstrate what can be grown locally and how, and they can help local people troubleshoot problems and identify what’s going to work in their community in their soils with what types of water and other resources they’ve got available. That is, practically, really important. These courses train local people in up-to-date, technically relevant, sustainable gardening and farming techniques – irrigation systems that work and that people can maintain. That’s really important.

The key thing is, these courses are investing in people who will be the leaders and doers in their communities in the future. Local food production projects, from small to large, have to be community-owned and community-driven. What are some of the things that can help those projects to survive in conditions that are really tough in remote Australia? You’ve got to think clearly about who your community is and what social and other resources it has in it, and design with those. If you’re in an arid environment, set your garden expectations to match the environment and the possibility of people going on sorry business and being away for a long time. At least think gardens in two sorts of categories. Think planting gardens that have perennial, seasonal fruits and other foodstuffs on them, so that once they’re established, they can be easily maintained.

There will always be something to gather from them. They’re almost gathering gardens, which links with traditional lifestyles. Also think shorter term cycle gardens that can be intensively done perhaps over eight to ten weeks. They grow fruit and veg, deliver very particular produce and also learning outcomes. When it comes summer, you let them go and start them up again at an appropriate time of year. So, coming up with a range of strategies in parallel. Do elders have a special role to play in local food production?

They have an enormous role. Elders’ knowledge is invaluable. When you see an elder like Merridoo, who absolutely understands traditional culture and plants, but is engaged in marrying that up with new techniques and approaches for great activities on-country, what more could you want? Anthea, thanks for joining us. We can all learn from these important projects. We can make better food choices for ourselves and our families.

Eating fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat, bush foods and drinking plenty of water will help us live longer. Let’s make sure that we all eat strong. Funded by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Captions by Captioning & Subtitling International

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