The Bundjalung Burners team and supporters.

A group of Aboriginal people from local communities has recorded significant health and fitness gains from a program that saw them become the first Northern Rivers team to participate in the annual, statewide ‘Team NSW Knockout Health Challenge’.

In addition, they came in the top fifteen for NSW, a remarkable performance according to Northern NSW Local Health District’s Aboriginal Chronic Care Officer, Anthony Franks.

The challenge is a NSW Health initiative, and the local Bundjalung Burners group from the Jubullum (Tabulam) - Casino – Kyogle area were supported in their endeavours by a partnership comprising Bulgarr Ngaru Medical Aboriginal Corporation Richmond Valley Clinic, Casino Community Health, Northern NSW Local Health District, and Ballina-based Solid Mob.

Mr Franks said he was delighted by the uptake of the program by a diverse group of community members, female (mostly) and male, all aged over 18 years.

“They showed great commitment over the duration of the three-months-long program, which started with a health screening and assessment, healthy cooking/eating sessions and chronic disease education sessions, and included a fitness regime individually tailored to each participant and supervised by coach Mark Roberts.

“There was ongoing support from medical and community health staff at the various health services. This is continuing and being extended to others who, for various reasons, were not able to join the Challenge but feel inspired by the involvement of family members and friends,” Mr Franks explained.

A key focus of the broader program is ensuring that Aboriginal people with, or at risk of, chronic disease have access to culturally appropriate rehabilitation programs. The initial focus is on the Casino, Jubullum and Kyogle communities who are currently not accessing mainstream chronic disease programs on a regular basis.

The objectives include increasing social participation and cohesiveness, decreasing participants’ weight and fitness, increasing activity in the home, boosting knowledge, skills and confidence in shopping, planning, preparing and cooking of healthy meals, and improving health outcomes in partnership with participants’ GPs.

Training and support for the Bundjalung Burners included a range of dietary, medical and lifestyle advice, along with exercise routines such as walking and running, weights, theraband exercises, and stretching. Participants were assessed at regular intervals during the program in accordance with weight and waist measurement criteria, and their performance in 400m walks, push-ups and sit-to-stand repetitions.

In almost every case, participants were found to have reduced their weight - in one case by five kilos - with physical performance almost invariably improved as well.

“Just as importantly, a number of participants are exercising at home as a result of the program, which also inspires others, and have managed to decrease medication intake through participating in this program,” Anthony Franks told GP Speak.

Feedback from participants included - “This program highlights the chronic health problems that our mob face and it’s a great way to address these issues”; “It was an awesome program, communities need more programs like this”; “Thanks to the program and management from my GP I am now off chemotherapy and steroid treatment to treat my arthritis”; and, “Although I only lost 200g according to the scales, I lost 13cm off my waist.”

This year’s program commenced at the start of the rugby league season, around April, and ran until June. Mr Franks is confident that another group will be formed in 2016, most likely with greater involvement, now that the word has spread. He also expects they will finish further up the state ladder in this milestone health initiative run by and for Aboriginal people.