IN THE health clinic at Southern Cross University, Northern United Rugby League Club trainer Stephen Scott went through his medical examination this week, along with the rest of the club's Koori players. In the clinical exercise physiology room, his height and weight were taken by student practitioner Jasmin Child, who let him know his body fat percentage was slightly over what it should be.
"Too much Christmas trifle," Stephen laughed. "I'll be fixing that in the gym and at training this year." As part of a collaboration between Northern United, SCU Health Clinic and Meridian Health, this playing season will see all the club's senior and junior players put "health before fitness" and go through a series of mandatory health checks before setting a foot on the field. According to Northern United's club secretary Grantley Creighton, the initiative is designed to improve Indigenous health in the region.
"A lot of Koori rugby league players have taken to the field thinking they are healthy, but they can have underlying issues like high blood pressure, sugar levels and heart problems. By getting tested now, we can pick up on things early and fix them before they turn into diabetes down the track.
"A lot of Koori men are reluctant to visit the doctors and we are hoping the team will go back into the local community and encourage their friends and relatives to get health checks done early and not wait until it's too late. We need to close the gap on Indigenous health - Aboriginal people suffer higher rates of kidney disease, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases than the rest of the population."
Manager of Meridian Health, John Bryce said the health check program was about "saving lives".
"We started this program three years ago when a player had a heart attack on the field," Mr Bryce said. "We found blood sugar levels high enough to put people in a coma and now the slogan is 'health before fitness'. If they didn't get involved now, they would be dead ten or twenty years earlier than they should."
The full health and fitness checks were given by student nurses, exercise physiologists and osteopaths at SCU's Lismore Health Clinic as well as a registered nurse from Meridian Health. SCU clinic manager Marlene Assim said the students would take on the players as case studies, develop a specific health and exercise program for each of them and follow up with them throughout the year.
"It's an educational collaboration working together for the benefit of communities and breaking down barriers," Ms Assim said. "The students work side by side gaining experience and learning about what each speciality area does while helping our Indigenous sporting heroes to be healthier.
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