Diabetes Australia has continued to work with QAIHC and Members to help design and roll out a preventative health and wellbeing program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Queensland.

QAIHC is consulting on the development of a refreshed, fit-for-purpose version of the established health program, My health for life (MH4L), that is culturally appropriate and meets the needs of participating QAIHC Members and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Funded by the Queensland Government through Health and Wellbeing Queensland and co-ordinated by Diabetes Australia, MH4L is a free initiative focused on making healthier choices and healthier habits. The program is aimed at Queenslanders who are high risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. Participants work with qualified health coaches to co-design a health plan that suits their lifestyle and health conditions.

For the past two years, QAIHC has been consulting widely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) across Queensland regarding the barriers and enablers to the acceptance and successful implementation of the MH4L program.

“After seeing some of the health challenges in communities in rural and remote areas, we see a need for prevention programs to have local flexibility and guided by our Members to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples create healthier habits in their communities,” said QAIHC General Manager Policy and Research Gregory Richards.

“We are currently working with Diabetes Australia to create a reinvigorated MH4L program that offers targeted, culturally appropriate resources and that reflects the environment and lived experiences of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

QAIHC is working with its Member services Apunipima, Mudth-Niyelta, ATSICHS Mackay, Girudala and Gindaja, as well as Associate Member Gumbi Gumbi to include a fit-for-purpose MH4L program into their service offerings, while ensuring they have local flexibility.

“It was great for my team to connect with the Apunipima Cape York Health Council which has been running the program for years,” Mr Richards said.

“It’s been very informative talking to them about their experiences – what elements of the program have worked well for them and what hasn’t.”

Over the past few years, Apunipima’s Nutrition team has been delivering the program in Cape York communities with positive community participation. The My health for life (MH4L) program enables informal group conversations about stronger health in a relaxed community setting, while supporting participants to make small health changes that they personally see as a priority.  

Participants choose their own health goals and support one another as a group over six sessions. Personal goals might include becoming more active, eating healthier, achieving a healthier weight, feeling less stressed or reducing smoking or alcohol intake.

From February to May 2023, Community Nutritionist Sue Charlesworth led a My Health For Life program in Pormpuraaw with some of the Pormpur Paanthu Aboriginal Council staff.

“Group members appreciated talking about different chronic diseases and how lifestyle factors such as what we eat, exercise, how much we smoke or drink, and mental wellbeing all affect the risk of getting a chronic disease, or controlling a chronic disease if they already have one,” she said.

“It was great to see how the group sessions also enabled the participants to support and encourage each other in their personal health journeys, as they shared their stories, successes and challenges with each other, supported by the program health information offered.”

Pormpuraaw community member and MH4L participant Vanessa Deakin said she joined My Health for Life to improve her health and fitness so she could participate in a five-kilometre fun run.  

“I was turning 50 and I needed to get a lot healthier around my grandchildren and children and better myself on my own journey,” she said.

“I found (My health for life) really good because it makes you have a look at your goal setting and health issues that may affect your life.  

“I started doing walking and gradually extending the walks, being mindful of what I ate and getting enough rest as well. In return, your mental health improves, you feel good about yourself and your body. Other people notice how you are beaming with happiness.”

For more information on MH4L visit https://www.myhealthforlife.com.au/

CAPTION: The My health for life Program in Pormpuraaw (delivered by Apunipima Cape York Health Council) has been helping locals make healthier choices.  Pictured from left are participant Alfreda Tarpenncha, Community Nutritionist Sue Charlesworth, participant Vanessa Deakin and participant Dorita Teddy.