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Research to focus on Indigenous gambling, smoking

By Richmond Hodgson

Menzies School of Health Research Senior Research Fellow Dr Matt Stevens Menzies School of Health Research Senior Research Fellow Dr Matt Stevens

The hundreds of communities nationwide that suffer the detrimental social and health effects of gambling and smoking will benefit from new research out of the Menzies School of Health Research (Menzies).

Menzies senior research fellow Dr Matt Stevens has been awarded an Early Career Fellowship by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), valued at $304,596 as part of the latest round of NHMRC funding.

The fellowship funds Dr Stevens for four years to apply approaches to reducing tobacco use and minimising harms associated with commercial and non-commercial gambling in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

Dr Stevens said that among the broader spectrum of gambling in Indigenous populations, community card gambling continued to cause significant health and social problems in remote communities, though there was little current research that informed policy and programs aimed at reducing gambling-related harms in communities.

“To address this, a focused study aimed at understanding the associations between community card games, money and mobility in remote Indigenous communities will be undertaken,” he said.

“Findings from this research will inform counselling services, gambling policy and public education campaigns centred around community card gambling.”

Several interrelated projects would cover regulation and legislation, surveillance and evaluation, prevention and education, and treatment and screening.

Dr Stevens said the advantage of applying this comprehensive public health approach was that the focus was on the population, rather than the individual, which has been shown to have the greatest effect.

“Within the Indigenous population, traditional approaches to health care are often perceived as blaming the individual, which may lead to feelings of shame when a person has difficulty controlling their gambling or smoking behaviour for example,” he said.

“Harms associated with gambling affect the individual, their family and the broader community in which they live in and include financial hardship, criminal activity, witnessing violence, being verbally and physically abused and increased transmission of infectious diseases in children living in homes where gambling problems occur.”

Dr Stevens’ gambling research program includes Indigenous and general population research and uses national survey data, collecting information directly through quantitative data collection and interviews, and reviewing gambling policy in Australia and internationally.