Researchers closing gap on Indigenous health

Dec 4 2014

Nicole Turner, right, with Dr Josephine Gwynn.

Hunter New England Health clinician and researcher Nicole Turner was honoured at the recent 2014 NSW Aboriginal Health Awards for her work in encouraging nutritious eating, physical activity and healthy weight for indigenous children.

Ms Turner received the Gail May Award which acknowledges those working tirelessly at grassroots level to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the State.

As one of Australia’s few Aboriginal community nutritionists, she has served as Senior Aboriginal Project Officer on the Go4Fun intervention for overweight children and as an investigator with the Many Rivers Diabetes Prevention Project (MRDPP).

“I am honoured to be recognised for doing something I’m really passionate about and feel privileged to work with so many great communities and people,” Ms Turner said. “It is so rewarding to educate young children about a healthy lifestyle and help them change their eating habits.”

Go4Fun focuses on nutrition and physical activity for children aged 7-13, helping parents learn more about healthy shopping, label reading and cooking. As part of this program, Nicole recruited and supported 47 Aboriginal people to train as Go4Fun leaders and also advised on a state-wide model.

Initial difficulties in securing participation were overcome through widespread consultation with key Aboriginal stakeholders, yielding new and effective engagement strategies. Vegetable boxes were given to each family as an incentive to stay with the program, and assistance was provided with transport and childcare.

The University of Newcastle’s MRDPP research study was conducted in partnership with the Biripi and Durri medical services in Taree and Kempsey respectively. Research leader Dr Josephine Gwynn said the goal was reducing type 2 diabetes risks among young Aboriginal people.

“In the context of the high burden of chronic disease and reduced life expectancy for Aboriginal people, excessive consumption of poor quality foods such as sugary drinks and hot chips is of major concern,” Dr Gwynn said.

“Nicki has rolled this program out very successfully across rural and remote areas in the Hunter New England Local Health District.

“A NSW Ministry of Health advisory committee has now been established to further this work across the State, based on the model of delivery we developed in the Many Rivers project and consolidated in the Go4Fun program.”

* Dr Josephine Gwynn and Ms Nicole Turner are affiliated with the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Health Behaviour and the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, researching in conjunction with HMRI’s Public Health program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.


In another award, the co-ordinator of the Gomeroi gaaynggal Program at Tamworth has been honoured for her dedication to kidney health research in Indigenous Australians.

Dr Kym Rae has received Kidney Health Australia’s Operation Angel Award in recognition of the outstanding contribution she has made in her local kidney community.

Gomeroi gaaynggal Program seeks to improve kidney development during intrauterine life with an aim to understand and improve pregnancy outcomes of Indigenous women, who have a much higher incidence of preterm birth and small for gestational age babies – who in turn have smaller kidneys and fewer nephrons.

Dr Rae is the link between the community and research scientists and her enthusiasm and dedication inspire both groups to cooperate and integrate.
Anne Wilson, CEO Kidney Health Australia, said that the National Awards Program recognised the unsung heroes of the kidney sector.

“The Operation Angel Award is Kidney Health Australia’s way of formally acknowledging the carers, patients, doctors, nurses, and wonderful members of the community who work tirelessly to support those living with kidney disease and increase public awareness of the burdens of the disease,” Ms Wilson said.

“Dr Rae is a shining example of the difference that one person can make, and is a very worthy recipient of the Kidney Health Australia Operation Angel Award,” added Ms Wilson, “ We congratulate her on her outstanding efforts and generous contribution to the local kidney community.”

Currently in Australia nearly 11,500 people are on dialysis, over 1,000 are waiting for a kidney transplant and sadly over 56 die with kidney-related disease every day.