What are the benefits of prevention for health and wellbeing?

The causes of chronic disease are often beyond the control of the individual. These causes may include a range of factors such as biomedical (for example, blood glucose levels and blood pressure), as well as the wider social determinants of health – for example, the social, environmental, structural, economic, cultural, commercial and digital environments in which we live, work, play and age.

The risk factors for chronic disease, such as poor diet, obesity, physical inactivity, harmful alcohol consumption and tobacco use, are influenced by environments that do not support healthy behaviours. Environments can also be designed to support healthier choices, such providing access to nutritious food or building pavements and cycleways.

Evidence shows that prevention strategies that create even small changes in the prevalence of risk factors for chronic disease are likely to lead to a significant reduction in the health burden of chronic disease for communities, individuals and the healthcare system. 1

To effectively address the underlying causes of chronic disease, we need a systems approach that supports us to create conditions that influence better health, especially for people who live in environments that contribute to poorer health outcomes.

There is strong evidence that the greatest health benefits are achieved by combining various strategies and approaches to target multiple risk factors. This reflects the complexity of chronic disease and demonstrates that successful preventive action is needed across multiple levels and sectors of the system.

Birds eye view of symmetrical suburban streets in Melbourne, Australia, caught in the long afternoon shadows. Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

Benefits of prevention for physical health

Strategies that support people to lead healthier lives are demonstrated to have long-lasting physical health benefits. These may include:

  • Reducing tobacco and/or alcohol consumption

  • Improving diet

  • Increasing physical activity levels

  • Reducing sitting time

These strategies can lead to better quality of life as well as less chance of: 1

  • dying young
  • developing a chronic disease
  • suffering complications of disease
  • suffering infectious diseases such as COVID-19
  • experiencing pain
  • going to hospital or taking regular medications
  • becoming overweight or obese
  • developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes
  • being injured.
A runner climbing stairs

Examples of physical health benefits of prevention


Prevention strategies in childcare settings and schools can reduce sedentary behaviour including screen time, increase physical activity, improve dietary outcomes and have significant health and social benefits. 3, 4

Health benefits for children are more likely to occur when strategies are implemented in the community, as well as in families or households. Community and school-based prevention can also reduce smoking rates in adolescents, bullying, and mental health conditions. 5

Older adults

There are physical health and mental health benefits for older adults from engaging in community-based physical activity, such as walking. 6, 7

First Nation Australians

Prevention strategies that improve food security for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including the availability and cost of healthy foods, have resulted in benefits such as increased fruit and vegetable consumption, reduced cholesterol and positive changes in body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure. 8, 9

Australia’s world-leading work to control tobacco use is an example of health benefits that have been realised from prevention.

A range of interventions including regulation and policies (for example, smoking bans), fiscal interventions such as tobacco excise, mass media campaigns, and healthy lifestyle programs to promote smoking cessation have seen a large reduction in smoking from 24% of people smoking daily in 1991 to 11% in 2019 2 .

As tobacco use poses a significant health burden in Australia, interventions such as stopping people (especially children and young people) from taking up smoking are one of the most effective public health strategies with a strong body of evidence of health benefit. 1

A woman with a hand on her chest. Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

Benefits of prevention for mental wellbeing

Prevention can produce mental wellbeing benefits. Evidence shows that supporting people to do more physical activity significantly reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and psychosis. 1

Encouraging healthier diets would lower the number of people at risk of depression. 1

There is also evidence that providing access to green space improves psychological distress levels and prevents the risk of psychological distress in people aged over 45 years. 10, 11

A woman and two children watch the sunset over Kakadu NT, Australia. Photo by Tim Davies on Unsplash

Find out more

The publications and other resources listed in the references below may be useful to those looking for more detailed and in-depth evidence around the benefits of chronic disease prevention.

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  1. Howse, E, Crosland, P, Rychetnik, L, Wilson, A. The value of prevention: An Evidence  Review brokered by the Sax Institute for the Centre for Population Health, NSW Ministry of Health. Sydney, Australia: The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, 2021. https://preventioncentre.org.au/resources/the-value-of-prevention/
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022.  Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia/contents/drug-types/tobacco#consumption
  3. Reilly JJ, Hughes AR, Gillespie J, Malden S, Martin A. Physical activity interventions in early life aimed at reducing later risk of obesity and related non-communicable diseases: A rapid review of systematic reviews. Obesity Reviews. 2019;20(S1):61-73. doi:10.1111/obr.12773
  4. Goldthorpe J, Epton T, Keyworth C, Calam R, Armitage CJ. Are primary/elementary school-based interventions effective in preventing/ameliorating excess weight gain? A systematic review of systematic reviews. Obesity Reviews. 2020;21(6). doi:10.1111/obr.13001
  5. Shackleton N, Jamal F, Viner Russell M, Dickson K, Patton G, Bonell C. School-Based Interventions Going Beyond Health Education to Promote Adolescent Health: Systematic Review of Reviews. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2016;58(4):382-96. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.12.017
  6. Zubala A, MacGillivray S, Frost H, Kroll T, Skelton Dawn A, Gavine A, et al. Promotion of physical activity interventions for community dwelling older adults: A systematic review of reviews. PloS one. 2017;12(7):e0180902. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0180902
  7. Comans T, Nguyen K-H, Gardiner P, Rahja M, N. M. Community-based health promotion for older adults: an Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute. Sydney, Australia: Sax Institute; 2019. https://www.saxinstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/20.06_Community-Based-Health-Promotion-for-OlderAdults.pdf
  8. Browne J, Adams K, Atkinson P, Gleeson D, Hayes R. Food and nutrition programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians: an overview of systematic reviews. Australian Health Review. 2018;42(6):689-97. doi:10.1071/AH17082
  9. Gwynn J, Sim K, Searle T, Senior A, Lee A, Brimblecombe J. Effect of nutrition interventions on diet-related and health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians: A systematic review. BMJ Open. 2019;9(4). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-025291
  10. Astell-Burt T, Feng X. The effect of urban form on wellbeing: an Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute for the NSW Centre for Population Health. Sydney, Australia: Sax Institute; 2016. https://www.saxinstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/The-effect-of-urban-form-on-wellbeing.pdf
  11. Bowen K, M P. The evidence base for linkages between green infrastructure, public health and economic benefit. Melbourne, Australia: Government of Victoria; 2015. https://www.vu.edu.au/sites/default/files/cses/pdfs/giecon-health-paper.pdf