Stronger Culture, Healthier Lifestyles

Stronger Culture, Healthier Lifestyles looks at the development of an after school cultural and activity program for Aboriginal children living in disadvantaged areas of the Shoalhaven.

The health disparity and social disadvantage between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children in NSW is a major public health concern.

Compared with their non-Aboriginal peers, Aboriginal children aged 5-16 years are 1.4 times more likely to be overweight or obese, exceed screen time recommendations on weekdays and engage in unhealthy eating habits.  

This project offers a unique after-school program that encourages Aboriginal children to connect with their culture and focuses on using culturally relevant activities chosen by the local Aboriginal community to promote healthy lifestyles and educational outcomes.

“This is the first program of its kind where connection to culture is the focal point to improve children’s healthy lifestyle behaviours and build confidence in who they are.” says Chief Investigator, Dr Rebecca Stanley.

Through ongoing consultation and collaboration with Cullunghutti Aboriginal Child and Family Centre, local community Elders, Aboriginal children and their parents and caregivers, the researchers and research partners have developed an after-school cultural and activity program with a focus on cultural connectedness, healthy lifestyles and educational outcomes. The program provides children opportunities to learn local Aboriginal culture, connect to Country and engage in activities that promote physical, social, emotional and spiritual health.

This idea has evolved from the lack of success of previous disease prevention programs and a growing consensus that programs should be more culturally appropriate and incorporate activities that strengthen connection to culture through cultural practices, knowledge and expressions, which is fundamental to Indigenous health and wellbeing.

The ten week pilot program was launched in Ulladulla in 2016, and expanded to Nowra and Culburra in 2017-18. These local areas were found to have the greatest need, and had strong support from the community for children to learn about who they are by connecting with their culture. Each week the children partake in activities such as bushwalking, Aboriginal games, art and crafts, discovering bush tucker and bush medicine, as well as learning the local language and dances.

Participation in this after-school cultural program aims to increase Aboriginal children’s cultural connectedness, improve educational outcomes and healthy lifestyles, and support the foundations for a healthier lifestyle now and into the future.


In the media


Koori Culture Club

An after school cultural program funded by UOW Global Challenges.

The team

This multi-component afterschool program brings together researchers in social sciences, health sciences and humanities and social inquiry (specifically Indigenous studies) to transform lives of Aboriginal children living in disadvantaged areas of the Illawarra region in a positive and motivating way.

Dr Rebecca Stanley is a Post-doctoral Fellow funded through a NSW Health Early-Mid Career Fellowship in the Early Start Research Institute, within the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. Her current research focuses on children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour and developing and testing culturally appropriate practices in afterschool settings to support all children to develop healthier lifestyles. She will contribute to the design, implementation and evaluation of the program and consult with local Aboriginal communities and children.

Dr Anthony McKnight is an Awabakal, Gumaroi and Yuin Man and is in the School of Education, Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. His research focuses on the importance of Aboriginal Country in Aboriginal knowledge systems and processes in teacher education and research. Dr McKnight’s role will be to advise on appropriate cultural practices and assist with interpretation of research outcomes.

Dr Yasmine Probst is an NHMRC TRIP Senior Research Fellow of the School of Medicine, Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health. Her research focuses on dietary assessment methodology and food composition and the application of technology to such processes. Dr Probst’s role in the team will be to advise on dietary assessment, healthy snack choices and to supervise the dietetic honours student.

Sarah Ryan is the project manager and research assistant on the project. She completed her Honours with the project exploring food intake among Aboriginal children in the context of the afterschool cultural program. Her research interest is in food security in Aboriginal communities and understanding the relationship between cultural connectedness and healthy eating.

Professor Tony Okely is a Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, and Director of Research in Early Start. His current research focuses on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and motor skill development in children aged 0-12 years. He has over 12 years experience in designing, implementing and evaluating school and community-based interventions. Prof Okely will advise on the development and evaluation of the afterschool cultural program.


This project is working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 4: Quality Education    Goal 10: Reduced inequalities    Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals