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For Native Groups, the Link Between Cultural Loss and Poor Health

Researchers say measures that fall outside traditional health interventions might be needed to deal with some of the problems. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Some of the longest-lasting effects of colonization can be found in the health of the native people who were colonized. Indigenous and aboriginal groups are often less healthy than the people whose ancestors settled in their lands.

In Canada, for example, indigenous -- or First Nation -- people live on average seven fewer years than Canadians of European ancestry. Aboriginal Australians live on average seventeen fewer years than white Australians.

Malcolm King from the University of Alberta is scientific director of Canada's Institute of Aboriginal Peoples' Health.

MALCOLM KING: "In simple terms, things such as type two diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases of a variety of types, and lung diseases and so on, are all found at higher than the comparison rates within the country, in many of these countries with indigenous populations."

Professor King says loss of culture, land and language all play a part in poor health. Having an identity, he says, is especially important for mental health. For example, many indigenous children in Canada were taken from their families and sent to live at schools. They were educated in the European system. So they never had a normal chance to develop a cultural identity.

Malcolm King says measures to deal with some of these problems might fall outside traditional health interventions.

MALCOLM KING: "We're proposing that health researchers get involved in projects like housing, like economic development, certainly educational projects, and study the health effects -- hopefully the health benefits -- of these complex social, economic interactions. And by learning what it is about economic development or housing that actually helps to improve health, we can then design more programs and ultimately make better use of the knowledge that we have."

There are almost four hundred million indigenous people in the world. Poverty, malnutrition, overcrowding, lack of clean conditions, pollution and limited health services are all causes of their poor health. Malcolm King and other researchers wrote about this in the medical journal The Lancet earlier this month.

They noted that some groups, as they move away from traditional ways of life, are developing diseases of modern living. These include obesity, heart disease and type two diabetes. They are also experiencing physical, social and mental disorders linked to the misuse of alcohol and drugs. The researchers say governments have a responsibility to work with indigenous people to help them solve problems in their community.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report. I'm Faith Lapidus.