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Internships to break new ground in communicating prevention

10 October 2017

Podcasts, science centres and school teachers may not immediately come to mind in population health, but they are key to a Prevention Centre project with the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at The Australian National University (ANU).

Dr Merryn McKinnon

This collaboration aims to explore new ways of raising the public profile of population health science and, ideally, how to create greater support for prevention.

Chief Investigator Professor Penny Hawe conceived of this project because she could “see a different future for the health of the public if ordinary people could get as excited about population health science as they are about galaxies, coral reefs and bird numbers.

“Public interest in these types of sciences was created, it did not happen by accident,” Professor Hawe said.

To help generate this public interest, CPAS is developing internship projects that engage non-population health researchers to explore different ways to communicate the science behind interventions designed to keep people healthy and out of hospital.

Irreverent podcast The Wholesome Show is developing a five-part series called Life in a Herd, which documents foundational concepts of population health science. Podcast presenter Dr Will Grant from ANU said the podcast planned to explore the history, relevance and importance of population health in society.

“We’re planning to talk to a range of population health experts, and a range of people on the outside of that expertise,” Dr Grant said. “But we’ll also dig through the history of the field for the key developments and the funny stories.”

Questacon exhibit

Another project involves developing an interactive exhibit for Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre – which could be displayed in a gallery or go on the road to regional, rural and remote areas of Australia with the Shell Questacon Science Circus.

Population health will also be explored in schools through the creation of a cross-disciplinary teaching resource, which will combine the principles of population health science within core curriculum strands of science, maths, English, health and personal development.

Dr Merryn McKinnon, who is leading the work at CPAS, said many students only thought of health in terms of their diet and getting enough exercise. “The beauty of this internship in particular is that the product it produces will allow students to explore what influences health through different lenses,” she said.

“We’re imagining lessons where students can explore how things like their neighbourhood and friends can influence health over time, and develop their understanding of the nature of science and how we apply our knowledge in different ways. It also offers teachers a resource that allows them to explore integrated units of the curriculum in new ways.”

Professor Penny Hawe

Another internship will see an award-winning science writer produce articles on population health issues and concepts for various mainstream publications.

Dr McKinnon said each of these internships will have an associated research project, creating new understanding of best practice in communicating population health science.

“The research we will be able to do around this project is in unexplored territory and promises to create new understandings for both science communication and population health science disciplines.”

The potential audience for the products of these internships is huge, which Professor Hawe sees as vital in creating support for public policy solutions in disease prevention. “In health, the dominant industries creating solutions in the public mind are technology and pharmaceutical companies, but solutions to health problems come from way more places than that,” Professor Hawe said.

“Test tubes and drugs matter, but so does transport, education, food production, regulation, employment and climate. We’d really like people to engage with the real, wider science of how their health is created.”

The first completed products are expected in December.

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