Indigenous peoples' health is 100 years behind that of other Australians, according to work carried out by UNSW researchers.

Dr Lisa Jackson Pulver and two of her colleagues from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine (SPHCM) have authored the work on Indigenous health in Australia and New Zealand for the Commission on the Social Determinants of Indigenous Health. The Commission will be using this and other information to feed into a bigger report to the World Health Organisation (WHO) over the next year or so.

The Commission on the Social Determinants of Indigenous Health met in Adelaide to discuss the findings.

"Indigenous people are affected by health problems which have not affected the rest of the Australian population for a long time," said Dr Jackson Pulver, from the Muru Marri Indigenous Health Unit at UNSW.

"Infections like boils and diseases like leprosy, rheumatic heart disease and tuberculosis haven't been experienced in white populations for decades, but they are still problems for some Indigenous communities," she said.

"On many indicators, our health now remains unacceptably lower and at levels experienced nearly a century ago by our non-Indigenous peers," the report states.

Poor health indicators for Indigenous Australians include shorter average life expectancies (59.4 years for Aboriginal men compared to 76.6 for all males and 64.8 years for Aboriginal women compared to 82 for all women), greater levels of ill health resulting in higher levels of disability and reduced quality of life and high rates of established behavioural health risk factors such as smoking and substance abuse.

The report suggests that Indigenous peoples' conception of health is holistic and linked to community well-being as well as individual health status.

"The influence that structural determinants have on inequities cannot be addressed without fundamental changes to the consequences of a history of colonisation," the report concludes. "Restoring access to cultural and social facilities that maintain social capital for the Indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand will do much to maintain resilience that is a defining character of all Indigenous people.

"Prime Minister Howard refers to the recognition of past wrongs as the black-arm band view of history for which he is unwilling to say sorry...However, to see the acknowledgement of past wrongs as symbolic fails to acknowledge the profound psychological impacts that these past and current wrongs have on Aboriginal peoples' sense of identity and our capacity to actively participate in Australian society," the report reads.

Dr Jackson Pulver is the first author on the chapter, the co-authors are UNSW's Liz Harris and John Waldon, from Massey University in NZ, who is a conjoint of UNSW.

Contact details: Dr Lisa Jackson Pulver, 0404 859 989, Susi Hamilton, UNSW Media unit, 9385 1583 or 0422 934 024