Showing how health and sport make a great team, an Australian-supported development-through-sport initiative in Tonga has received recognition by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a ‘best practice’ health intervention.
In Tonga a large number of women are physically inactive, which contributes to a staggering 94 per cent being overweight or obese – and at considerable risk of developing lifestyle disease such as diabetes, heart disease or hypertension.
Recognising the need for a strategic approach to these frightening statistics, the governments of Australia and Tonga are working together through the Australian Sport Outreach Program (ASOP), an AusAID-funded initiative, which is managed by the Australian Sports Commission, to tackle women’s physical inactivity.
The result of this collaboration is the ‘Come on Tonga, Let’s Play Netball’ (Kau Mai Tonga) campaign.
The Kau Mai Tonga is leading the way in sport-based health initiatives by using traditional marketing techniques to develop catchy mass media campaigns designed to change Tongan women’s attitudes to being active.
Underpinning this campaign is intensive support provided to the Tonga Netball Association by Netball Australia, through the support of ASOP, to make sure that women interested in being active have fun, safe and accessible physical activity options available to them, which is especially important in Tonga where sport has traditionally been male dominated.
The good news is that this approach of building demand and creating supply is working and netball is a big winner with more than 376 teams registering for the first Kau Mai Tonga tournament, which is an astounding increase from 27 existing teams the previous year.
Getting women onto the netball court has also enabled the program to spread important health messages. Research has shown that many of those taking part have made lifestyle changes since playing netball, including eating a healthier diet, drinking less alcohol and cutting down on smoking.
The WHO Healthy Islands Recognition Award for best practice showcases the important role of sport in getting people moving for a healthier and more active Pacific.
From the Australian Institute of Sport: www.ausport.gov.au