Childhood anaemia is a growing concern in the Northern Territory as 22 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under four years old are reported to be anaemic. Childhood anaemia can have detrimental effects on physical and cognitive development in the early years and has long-term implications for the development of chronic diseases later in life. Consultations with service providers and policy makers identified childhood anaemia as a key area for investigation. The relative contribution of causes of childhood anaemia and the barriers to treatment and nutritional uptake in Indigenous communities is not well known. Evidence from the ABCD National Research Partnership project suggests that guideline-specified screening, treatment, follow-up and brief interventions are poorly implemented in many remote communities but the reasons for this are unknown. This project aimed to gain knowledge on people’s understanding of anaemia that included diet and traditional foods available in remote Aboriginal communities.

This project piloted a dietary intake tool to record the daily intake of food and beverages for children aged under two years. Dietary intake was recorded using videos and/or photographs supported with a written transcript of dietary intake each day. The information collected was entered into “Foodworks“, a software program that develops a report of the caloric and nutrient intake, highlighting any deficits in dietary intake.

The aims were to train and employ local community researchers to collect food and beverage diaries for children aged under two years, photograph or film child’s dietary intake and conduct focus groups with health care providers and community members to identify the knowledge gaps around child anaemia and nutrition. The project was conducted in one remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory that had expressed childhood anaemia as a priority for their health service and community.

Health literacy of anemia in community members was good. However, the health practitioners’; knowledge of childhood anaemia was in general reflective of the specialty area they were employed in.

Families enjoyed photographing or videoing their child’s dietary intake, supporting the idea that photographs and videos are acceptable tools to use with families in remote communities.

Family Knowledge of the right foods to eat was good; however, the frequency of eating these foods was not reflected in the majority of food diaries collected.

The project’s team were able to use the FoodWorks program to generate reports that were used to discuss with parents nutritional requirements to improve the food that the child was receiving.

From the focus group discussions, some recommendations were made to improve the Central Australian Rural Practioners Association (CARPA) guidelines and included:

  1. Employment of child health trained practitioners
  2. Modifications to the electronic health records to provide prompts that reflect what is in the CAPRA manual when a low Hb is entered
  3. Development of an anaemia educational module to be completed by rural and remote practitioners within three months of their first placement.
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