Heart Week and the need for health equality

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 “Avoidable health inequalities arise because of the circumstances in which people grow, live, work, and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness.”[1]

In other words, our individual health and the health of our communities is influenced by many factors.

Heart Week kicks off this weekend, and we know that people living in rural and remote areas have less access to health services, travel greater distances to seek medical attention, and generally have higher rates of ill health and mortality than people living in cities.[2]

The Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network explains that lifestyle related chronic diseases such as Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are pressing issues for our local communities and are leading to increased hospitalisations in the region.

And it is important to note is that in our regions, as well as across Australia, there is a significant gap between the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous populations.

What is Samaritans doing in this area?

In the Hunter, Samaritans delivers the Coalfields Healthy Heartbeat program.

Caitlin is the Project Coordinator and has shared information below about how the program offers valuable resources to locals in the Hunter community. As we read from Caitlin’s information below, supporting health in a community is much more than promoting physical activity; it’s about access, education and mental health too.

Person holding heart light

“The Cessnock community is really keen on learning more about healthy lifestyles and education is one of my favourite parts of the job.

By talking at community centres and at schools I can see a real interest from people to learn.

It’s not just individuals but businesses; over the last 18 months of being in this role I have tried to implement changes through local businesses, for example with Healthier Oils program that’s been in Cessnock for some time. We encourage food outlets to cook with healthier oils and that’s been a really amazing change within the community.

There are a few exciting initiatives coming up that coincide with Heart Week.

Free heart health checks

I’m reaching out to organisations and GPs in Cessnock and offering to give talks on what’s involved in the new Medicare-funded heart health checks and how easy they are. These conversations will continue beyond Heart Week to encourage locals in the at-risk age brackets – over 35 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and over 45 for non-Indigenous Australians – to go into their GPs for a free check.

Mental health not just physical health

‘Five ways to Wellbeing’ is a new initiative to Cessnock addressing wholistic health in the local business community. It centres on the importance of psychological and emotional health, as a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body.

This initiative via the Cessnock Healthy Lifestyle Network (CHHB is Chair) targets businesses to reach the Cessnock communities as employees and to then help reach families and friends. The program is spearheaded by Principal Mount View High.

Free cooking classes

In May we start a new round of our free cooking classes led by a dietician. Over 8 weeks we teach people how to cook healthy meals by using inexpensive and in-season foods. See the Coalfields Healthy Heartbeat webpage for details.

Local walking groups

Local walking groups are a great free program run by the Heart Foundation that I organise locally. More information is online and people can contact me directly to receive help with starting a group.”


[1] This quote is from the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health (2008) and is also listed as a key concept on the World Health Organisation’s website.

[2] Health Planning Compass 2018 https://www.hneccphn.com.au/media/14649/hnecc-health-planning-compass-2018.pdf