A new study has found that half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants who took part were anaemic.
The study by researchers from the Fred Hollows Foundation, Queensland Health, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services and the University of WA discovered that 18 percent also had stunted growth.
In a report published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health and released on Wednesday, community nutrition programs were trialed in six communities in response to community and health service concerns.
Of 311 infants aged six to 24 months living in the communities from May 2010 to May 2012, 262 were enrolled in the program.
The communities ranged from north-east Western Australia to the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland.
The researchers reported they found “unacceptably high levels of anaemia — 42 percent of children were effected — as well as high levels of stunting.
“Our study confirms that anaemia and poor growth are important health issues for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations during the first two years of life,” they reported.
“Importantly, in contrast to previously published reports that have been confined to one state-territory, our study includes children from across northern Australia indicating these issues are widespread.”
The report said nutrition must be addressed.
“The poor growth and high prevalence of anaemia observed in this study, including in the first six months of life, suggest that strategies in remote areas of northern Australia need to address both child and maternal factors,” it said.
“Current strategies that focus mostly on screening and treatment appear to be inadequate at reducing the burden of anaemia amongst young children.
“Instead, comprehensive interventions should be implemented to improve nutrition and health of mothers prior to and during pregnancy as well as the nutrition, health and growth of their children in early life.”