Utopia gets it right when it comes to indigenous health

July 29, 2017

The study set out to examine death from all causes and from cardiovascular disease (CVD) in a particular aboriginal group living in a relatively remote region in the Northern Territory, Australia.

The study involved 296 people aged 15 years or older who were initially screened in 1995; hospital and primary health care records and death certificates were then reviewed for the period up to December 2004.

The 10-year health study of the region found that the aboriginal community of Utopia appeared to have a far better health record when it came to hospitalisation and CVD and this was because the group had good primary health care services over which they had a degree of control.

However more importantly the community were still hunters and gatherers which ensured a good diet and plenty of healthy physical activity.

The study found that the community-controlled health care along with a traditional lifestyle led to the lower than usual mortality rates in the Utopia area.

Professor Ian Anderson from the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health says self-determination is a fundamental determinant of good health and leads to improved health conditions.

Dr. Kevin Rowley from the University of Melbourne says the study shows that the key to success is working with communities to identify their aspirations.

Utopia is made up of 16 communities who live in the desert north-east of Alice Springs, the community-controlled Urapuntja Health Service has a weekly roster for doctors who check on Aborigines as they live in the main a traditional lifestyle.

The community also benefited limited access to alcohol as well as social factors, including connectedness to culture, family and land, and opportunities for self-determination.

The study was a collaborative effort involving the Menzies Research Centre in Alice Springs, Melbourne University and the Urapuntja Health Centre and is published in the current issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.

A previous study of 800 men over the age of 50 found that those with low levels of testosterone had a 33% increased risk of death over an 18-year period than those with higher levels and also appeared significantly more likely to have a cluster of risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

This raises the suspicion that men with low testosterone levels may be prone to depression because they are also more likely to be in poor physical health.

The Australian researchers say this does not fully explain the link, and that some other factor must also be in play.

Testosterone replacement therapy has also been shown to help elderly men with mild Alzheimer's disease and research suggests that levels of testosterone in men of all ages are decreasing.

Experts say there is abundant evidence which shows that testosterone levels are linked to mood but some say caution must be used regarding testosterone therapy, as depression, particularly in elderly people, was often the result of many different, inter-relating factors.

The study was supported by funds from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and is published in the current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.