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Community health and prevention: there’s a will but not a way

9 August 2017

Claire Pearce

Clinical managers in the ACT believe community health services have a responsibility to work with people who are overweight and obese, but the services lack the capacity for the sustained effort required, a Prevention Centre PhD project has found.

An occupational therapist and senior project officer at ACT Health, Ms Pearce’s PhD project is investigating how overweight and obesity prevention could be better incorporated into health services beyond primary care. She is using ACT Health as a case study.

Ms Pearce interviewed 12 clinical managers in ACT community health, who said their services were increasingly dealing with clients with complex and immediate clinical needs and this work took precedence over health promotion.

Her earlier interviews with senior policy, population health and clinical executives revealed barriers to action for obese patients. A key factor was a sense of nihilism – that obesity prevention was ineffective or too late by the time people presented to health services, Ms Pearce said.

A role for health

Clinical managers did not share this sense of futility about helping people who were overweight or obese.

“There was enthusiasm for the idea that health could have a role to play,” Ms Pearce said. “However, there was a clear view that it is hard to engage with people around lifestyle change so it is difficult to prioritise this when you have lots of people needing immediate treatment.

“In other words, the problem needs to be addressed, and health does have a role in this, but it is not something that could be done by community health.”

Ms Peace presented the latest findings of her research at the recent Menzies Centre for Health Policy’s Emerging Health Policy Research Conference in Sydney.

Her presentation, ‘How do health services view their role in the prevention of obesity?’, was awarded the prize for Best Conference Presentation.

After more interviews with clinicians and further data analysis, Ms Pearce hopes to bring together key stakeholders in ACT Health to explore how different parts of the system perceive obesity prevention and reach a consensus on ACT Health’s role in obesity prevention.

– Marge Overs, Communications Manager