Remote pools help Aboriginal kids stay fit

A comprehensive study into the impact of swimming pools in remote Aboriginal communities has found significant health and social benefits for children.

A research team from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research has followed the health status of children from Jigalong, Burringurrah and Mugarinya Aboriginal communities since 2000 when the remote community pools were first opened.

At a special swimming carnival in Jigalong, Institute Director Professor Fiona Stanley today thanked the community for their participation in the study over the past six years. Olympic Gold medallist Shane Gould helped to organise the carnival, leading the children in a range of fun activities as well as developing their swimming skills

“We now have firm evidence that these pools are a great investment – not simply for fun, but for a range of health and social benefits,” Professor Stanley said.

Professor Stanley said the study results showed a big drop in ear and skin disease when children are swimming for sustained periods of time.

“We know that extremely high rates of ear disease have caused many children to suffer significant hearing loss which disrupts their education and increases the level of disadvantage that these children face,” she said.

“These pools appear to be an effective option that has real long term benefits for the children and the community as a whole.

“For these results to be sustained it is important that the pools remain open for as long as possible each year.”

Professor Stanley said that during the period 2001-2005 at Jigalong clinic there have been reductions of:
# 41% in antibiotic prescriptions
# 44% in ear disease
# 51% in skin disease
# 63% in respiratory disease
when compared with the pre-pool rates.

Professor Stanley said the reduction in skin sores was important. Skin sores are associated with rheumatic heart disease and glomerulonephritis (kidney disease) – the effects of which can be very debilitating or fatal.

“If we can stop young children getting skin sores, we may reduce the risk of kidney and heart disease later,” she said.

“What this research has done is produce real evidence to support the importance of providing infrastructure in remote communities.

“While the investment in pools is significant, the ongoing benefits for the children and the community are much greater.”

The pools are operated by the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia (RLSSA). Qualified RLSSA instructors are teaching the children to swim using the “Swim and survive” program.

From Research Australia

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