Time to broaden our horizons: Professor Andrew Wilson

Australia’s prevention community should expand its focus to consider a broader range of chronic conditions and more diverse risk factors, Prevention Centre Director Professor Andrew Wilson has told the Public Health Prevention Conference 2018.

Professor Andrew Wilson
Professor Andrew Wilson

Delivering the keynote address, Professor Wilson said the prevention community currently and appropriately focuses on chronic diseases that carry the greatest burden, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and respiratory disease.

But it is time to start addressing other conditions such as pain, dementia and arthritis if we are to achieve the objectives of the Australian Government’s National Strategic Framework for Chronic Conditions, he said.

“Chronic disease is only one component of chronic conditions. Our prevention efforts have to encompass both improving quality as well as quantity of life,” Professor Wilson said.

He was speaking at the Public Health Association of Australia’s inaugural Prevention Conference in Sydney, of which the Prevention Centre is the major sponsor.

More than 20 Prevention Centre researchers are speaking during the three-day conference, which also includes Prevention Centre pre- and post-conference events.

Professor Wilson said preventing chronic disease is about more than the individual – it requires a systems approach that takes into account the environment and how that affects the individual and population health.

He called on the prevention community to focus more on health inequalities, with risk factors for chronic disease increasingly concentrated in disadvantaged communities.

He also called for a more coordinated approach to prevention, acknowledging that co-morbidities represent a growing problem.

“It’s no longer about single diseases or single risk factors, yet the prevention community is increasingly siloed into people who work in specific areas, such as smoking prevention, physical activity or diet,” he said.

“But we have got to recognise that these things travel together – they are not independent associations. We have to start to think about these things as collective issues rather than individual problems.”

Into the future, Professor Wilson said new risk factors are likely to emerge and used the example of poor sleep – a major and ongoing problem that is now linked to greater risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes and depression.

He predicted growing interest in less common chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, where increasing frequency suggests there are likely to be modifiable risk factors that have not yet been identified.

“We are doing OK on preventing some chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, but there is substantial room for improvement overall, particularly with regards to socio-economic and regional differences,” he said.

“We need to maintain the gains we have made in controlling risk factors like smoking in the general community, while testing new approaches for controlling these risk factors where there are persistent inequalities, and start to incorporate the growing evidence for other modifiable risk factors.”