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A new study in New South Wales has found providing subsidised fruit and vegetable to low-income Indigenous families improved the children's levels of haemoglobin, and reduced emergency department attendances and hospital visits for illness.
The results of this study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that the children's haemoglobin levels significantly increased and the level of prescriptions of oral antibiotics markedly decreased compared to the year previous to the program. However iron deficiency and anaemia did not change significantly.
The participants were assessed 12 months before the program and again 12 months later, between December 2008 and September 2010. The researchers analysed data from health assessments, audits and blood testing of children aged 17 years and under from 55 families who attended three Aboriginal community-controlled health services and received a weekly box of subsidised fruits and vegetables.
The lead author of the study Dr Andrew Black, from the University of South Australia's School of Population Health said ‘There were definitely positive short-term health outcomes and, from our perspective, we observed children's health was better on this program, as they were sick less often and required less antibiotics.' He said that for all the families involved in the study, the cost of fresh produce is a barrier to consumption of adequate daily fruit and vegetables. ‘For a proportion of these families, who are struggling generally with issues in their lives, providing subsidised food isn't adequate by itself. There are a lot more challenges than making food cheaper for those families, but it's an important step and helps a significant number of people,' he said.
Professor Amanda Lee, an Indigenous nutrition expert from the Queensland University of Technology who was not involved in the study, said 'The study showed that it's clear we are losing the battle to improve nutrition in Indigenous communities.' Professor Lee said that objective measured data in remote communities showed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may eat less than one serve a day of fruit or vegetables. ‘People know what to do but they can't access the fruit and vegetables, they can't afford them or they are not available,' she said.
Julie Brimblecombe, Senior Research Fellow at Menzies School of Health Research said that the study was unique in that it was initiated and driven by an Aboriginal controlled health service. She said more needs to be done to assess the feasibility of this scheme being implemented on a large scale. ‘There is compelling evidence that improved diet is associated with improved health outcomes, however evidence on how best to encourage healthier diets at a population level is limited.'
'Evidence is also needed on the cost effectiveness of such interventions to inform policy and to make sure at a population level we are getting the best value and outcomes for money invested,' Dr Brimblecombe said.
Source: The Conversation