Dietitian makes a difference in the Torres Strait Islands

Diabetes Queensland and Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service have formed a partnership to provide an exciting dietetics program in Thursday Island and the Northern Peninsula Area.

Kiah Peterie, who has an undergraduate Science degree and a Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics, has lived and worked on Thursday Island for the past two years in one of the Allied Health Rural Generalist Trainee positions.

Kiah is one of two dietitians for the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service (TCHHS), seeing clients not only on Thursday Island but also 15 outlying islands and five communities on the Northern Peninsula Area where people need advice if living with diabetes and to prevent or delay onset of the condition.

“The region has a high need for a nutrition workforce,” Kiah said. “Torres Strait Islanders have a greater genetic risk of developing type 2 diabetes than other Australians.

“Food access and environmental constraints means obesity and childhood obesity is a big issue.”

From July 1, Kiah’s position will be funded by My health for life, a chronic disease prevention program led by Diabetes Queensland and funded by the Queensland Government; Diabetes Queensland through funding from the National Diabetes Services Scheme; and by the TCHHS. Kiah will be supported by the senior dietitian, Marissa Arnot, at TCHHS, who has worked closely with Kiah, Diabetes Queensland and My health for life to enable and set up this service.

Executive Director of Allied Health at TCHHS, Vivienne Sandler said: “I am very positive about the benefits for our communities from the work of the combined programs from TCHHS and Diabetes Queensland. I am confident that dietitians contribute important and significant work in promoting health and wellbeing and preventing disease. Our dietitians on Thursday Island are committed and highly skilled in providing this service.”

“This is a good example of an innovative alliance securing regional services,” Diabetes Queensland CEO Sturt Eastwood said.

“We want to make sure that the Queenslanders who need it most are getting the help they need.”

“Retaining a full-time dietitian for the Torres Strait will make a real difference to this community.”

Kiah said it was vital that people know they can prevent or delay diabetes, and that if diagnosed, it’s important to manage diabetes and delay complications. “Control it well and you can prevent complications.”

Complications include heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, limb amputation, depression/anxiety and blindness.

“Many of the people I see think that once they have diabetes they’ll get complications. It’s not inevitable. There are steps they can take, such as taking a look at their diet and increasing exercise, which will help them avoid or delay complications,” she said.

“Just taking medication is never going to be as good as the combination of the right medication, diet and exercise.”

Kiah said adjusting the usual risk factors can have a profound effect.

“Reducing soft drink and white rice, eating smaller portions as well as increasing vegetable intake, can make a big difference.”

The dietitian moved from northern NSW with her partner, an electrician, to live on Thursday Island two years ago. She has found a rewarding and meaningful career in this remote coastal region of Queensland.

“People appreciate the help. I want to keep building the relationships in the community, and get organisations both in the private and public sectors to work together so that people can get help wherever they live.”

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