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Prevention news wrap

9 February 2017

This new bi-monthly column collates interesting and thought-provoking news and views around prevention.

By Helen Signy, Senior Communications Officer

Donald Trump and public health

It’s still too early to understand what the newly minted Trump administration will mean for the prevention of chronic disease, though we have a few worrying clues. Even before he’d signed away the Trans Pacific Partnership and banned funding for international groups that provide abortions, President Trump had asked Robert F Kennedy Jr to chair a new commission on vaccine safety. As this Washington Post analysis points out, Kennedy has repeatedly voiced his beliefs over a link between vaccines and autism. Vaccine advocates in the US are now mobilising to counter this perceived threat to public health.

While we wait and see what happens next, we can look at the President’s track record on health. This commentator is worried that the Trump administration will gut funding for public health campaigns if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, as seems likely based on the appointment of long-term critic Tom Price as health secretary. Taking a broader view, this great read examining the influences that drive President Trump was written by George Monbiot in November, and is highly recommended.

Why Greg Hunt should put prevention first

In Australia, meanwhile, we have a new Health Minister. This commentary makes the case for prevention as Minister Hunt establishes his agenda, while this analysis calls for more political commitment to prevention through the Health Care Homes Pilot.

Tackling industry’s tactics

Prevention Centre researcher Dr Gary Sacks, of Deakin University, has recently published research showing that ’big food’ lobbying could sway health policies in Australia. This lobbying also appears to be swaying science: as the New York Times reported here, a review published in December in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which was scathing of global recommendations to limit sugar consumption, was paid for by the International Life Sciences Institute. The Institute in turn is funded by corporations including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods and Monsanto. Incidentally, this opinion piece by dentist (and former Masterchef contestant) Matthew Hopcraft expertly picks apart some industry arguments against a sugar tax.

Earlier last month, the World Health Organization published a monograph on the economics of tobacco and tobacco control, which finds that the market power of tobacco companies has increased recently, with new targets in the eastern Mediterranean and Africa. There is a good analysis of the monograph’s significance in this Lancet editorial.

Then again, perhaps we can all learn from industry. Here Ichiro Kawachi, a professor of social epidemiology at Harvard University, explains how to use behavioural economics – tactics widely used in junk food marketing – to change decision-making around food.

Partnering for better health

Lastly, two interesting articles have reaffirmed the value of multi-sector partnerships in tackling complex public health problems. The first covers an international study that found communities that fostered cross-sector collaborations experienced a significant decline in deaths due to heart disease, diabetes and influenza.

Also read this opinion piece by executive director Dr Abdul Ghaffar of the WHO Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, who says a shift in thinking toward “embedded research” could further bridge the gap between evidence and practice.