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The annual Victorian Population Health Survey (VPHS) is an important part of Victoria’s population health surveillance since being first undertaken in 2001, offering quality information on the health and wellbeing of adult Victorians and tracking trends over time.

This report focuses on the cultural and social determinants of the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in Victoria, based on the data collected in the 2017 VPHS.
The 2017 VPHS was part of a regular three-year cycle when the sample size of the survey is expanded to enable data to be reported at the local government area level. The expanded sample size also allowed the recruitment of enough adults who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, to enable a robust statistical analysis of the data by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status.

Additional questions pertaining to connection to culture were developed in consultation with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and were included in the 2017 survey.

The findings of this report will be used to inform program development and planning—including prevention, early intervention, and cultural safety strategies. The report findings are also relevant to informing the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Safety Framework

Provision of these findings also responds to the recently agreed priorities of the Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Partnership Forum (AHWPF). Three of the seven key priorities agreed align with this report:

  • Data sharing and investment in Aboriginal health and wellbeing data.
  • Improving the cultural safety of mainstream health services.
  • Investment in prevention - with attention to the social and cultural determinants of health.

Summary of key findings

Cultural determinants of health

  • Just over one-half (52.3%) of Aboriginal adults aged 18 years or older attended or participated in at least one Aboriginal cultural event in the 12 months preceding the survey.
  • Being connected to culture was associated with better health—70.8% of Aboriginal adults who attended an Aboriginal cultural event reported being in excellent, very good or good health compared with 59.4% of Aboriginal adults who did not attend an Aboriginal cultural event.
  • Similar proportions of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal adults were able to get help when needed from family, friends, or neighbours.

Social determinants of health

  • Experiences of racism:
    • Experiences of racism were associated with poorer health and wellbeing—for example, 65.5% of Aboriginal adults who experienced racism in the 12 months preceding the survey had ever been diagnosed by a doctor with depression and anxiety.
  • Food insecurity:
    • 14.4% of Aboriginal adults in Victoria ran out of food and could not afford to buy more at least once in the 12 months preceding the survey interview, compared with 6.2% of non-Aboriginal adults.
  • Financial stress:
    • More than 1 in 4 Aboriginal adults (28.3%) were financially stressed, defined as being unable to raise $2,000 within 2 days in an emergency – significantly higher than non-Aboriginal adults (13.5%).

Social and emotional health

  • Almost two-thirds of Aboriginal adults rated their health as excellent, very good or good, although just over, one-third (34.5%) of Aboriginal adults rated their health as fair or poor – significantly higher than non-Aboriginal adults (20.1%).
  • Psychological distress:
    • Almost 1 in 4 Aboriginal adults (23.2%) experienced high or very high level of psychological distress – significantly higher than non-Aboriginal adults (15.4%).
  • Doctor-diagnosed depression and anxiety
    • Over one-third (38.3%) of Aboriginal adults had ever been diagnosed by a doctor with depression or anxiety – significantly higher than non-Aboriginal adults (27.3%).

Determination of Aboriginal status in key administrative datasets

  • Aboriginal status may be underestimated and misclassified by about one-third in the Victorian Admitted Episodes dataset and the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset, and significantly underestimated in the primary healthcare setting.

Page last updated: 10 Nov 2021

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