• Children in regional communities across Australia are learning about healthy living. (YouTube)Source: YouTube
Kids have been choosing water over Coca-Cola at outback stores over the last six years, following a program that was rolled out across Australia to prevent kidney disease.
10 Mar 2016 - 12:04 PM  UPDATED 10 Mar 2016 - 1:09 PM

The ThumbsUp! School program has been helping children from 50 communities across Australia make healthy eating and drinking choices.

“The people on the ground are seeing the difference between kids walking out of outback stores with a litre of Coke, to seeing them actually choose water, and also choose better food,” Thumbs Up! CEO Graham Buzz Bidstrup told NITV News on World Kidney Day on Thursday.

When children reach for cans of soda at their local stores across the Northern Territory, to far north Queensland, down to APY lands in South Australia, and regional NSW in places such as Walgett and Moree, they see stickers placed above it reading 'Jimmy says water is healthy!'

The program also uses song to teach children about healthy living. Singer Shellie Morris visited children in Gapuwiyak in 2011 where she collaborated with them to write and perform the 'Gapuwiyak Water Song'.

'Water is good to live long,' the kids sing.

In 2009, health organisation Jimmy Little Foundation’s Thumbs Up! program began helping prevent kidney disease among Indigenous youth by encouraging them to eat healthier food.

“We are determined to continue our work because we believe to sustain a healthy Indigenous population we need to conduct preventative health program so children grow up with an understanding about kidney disease,” Mr Buzz says.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more than twice as likely as non-Indigenous people to have indicators of chronic kidney disease, reports the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

According to Mr Buzz, “children everywhere need to understand the importance of drinking water and eating healthy food. Thereby in 2030 we will have a vibrant and healthily Indigenous population in Australia."

He says local communities are embracing the program.

“Indigenous communities, and traditional owners, and elders appreciated the work we were doing with their kids,” he says.

But the government slashed $500,000 worth of funding for Thumbs Up! last year, Mr Buzz says.

‘We were going great until the Abbott government came in and cut all our funding."

He expressed concern for the future of youth.

“The general population, people in the bigger cities and eastern states, don’t really understand the gravity of the problem out there, and you only find it out when you go there and see people and you talk to people.”