Riverland residents will have an opportunity to play a significant role in a vital new research project looking at the health impacts of continued tough times on rural communities when UniSA launches a new study this month.
The project, led by UniSA's health sciences researchers Dr Jim Dollman and Professor Mark Daniel, will build on studies that have already identified that people from rural and remote communities often suffer poorer health than their city counterparts.
"Research undertaken in Victoria and the south east of South Australia has presented evidence that in very general terms, rural and remote communities suffer poorer health across a range of indicators," Dr Dollman says.
"Key problems include higher incidences of heart disease, higher levels of obesity, a greater incidence of metabolic syndrome and in some groups of men, a much higher incidence of depression and psychological distress.
"Our project aims to look more deeply into the sociological factors that may be contributing to these differences and in particular to find out more about the impact of prolonged dry conditions on the social structures in these communities and what might be the longer term health consequences of these stresses."
As part of the study researchers plan to collect data using focus groups and surveys. Focus groups will be carried out with adults and school aged children from years 6 to 9 in the Riverland area. Researchers will also be seeking responses from surveys targeted at children and their parents and will conduct interviews with key community leaders.
Dr Dollman said the responses would feed into the existing structures for health promotion for the SA Department of Health, Country Health SA and specifically, Riverland Health Services.
"We are hoping to get a real insight into how prolonged dry conditions impact on the community," Dr Dollman says.
"We know the impacts are layered; for instance that economic stress may lead to personal stress, family stress and depression. We know that as communities retract so do the social networks that keep a community healthy - sports clubs, community service organisations, social clubs. All of these changes over time can have an impact on health and well-being."
Dr Dollman said an important aspect of the research was to fully engage with the community.
"The research will not just be about what we as health researchers think, we are hoping to tap into the wisdom and experience of the community itself. Rural communities are incredibly resilient so it is important for us to understand the on the ground concerns and goals of the communities we study."
More information about opportunities to participate in the research project is available from Dr Jim Dollman at the University of South Australia.
Access to original item: http://www.unisa.edu.au/news/2009/290509.asp