Prevention leaders welcome long-awaited National Preventive Health Strategy

The development of a new National Preventive Health Strategy should provide a framework for targeted investment in prevention interventions that work, Prevention Centre Director Professor Andrew Wilson said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced at the Public Health Prevention Conference 2019 yesterday that the Morrison Government would be developing a long term national preventive health strategy.

“Whether it’s drugs and alcohol, whether it’s the work in relation to diet, whether it’s other elements, we are developing with you a long term National Preventive Health Strategy,” Minister Hunt said.

“I’ll be inviting representatives from this group, but I would like all of you to feed in your ideas and I’ll be looking forwards to a roundtable with you at some stage in the near term, to have your views, your advice, your comments, frank and fearless as always. The work you do is appreciated and my task is to now take that forward with a national strategy.”

Professor Wilson said the strategy would fill an important need in Australia, where research had already provided the evidence for more effectively targeted investment in prevention.

“The value of investment in prevention of chronic diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer is evident in the improvement in the life expectancy of Australians over the past 30 years,” Professor Wilson said.

“Now we need to address obesity, diabetes, osteoarthritis and other chronic conditions so those extra years of life can be increasingly healthier, more productive years.”

The announcement came as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released new data on the Australian burden of disease, showing chronic diseases dominate in terms of healthy lives lost.

For the first time, Australians suffered more burden from living with illness (50.4% of total burden) than from premature death (49.6%).

Despite substantial health gains made due to a drop in tobacco consumption since 2003, tobacco use, overweight and obesity, poor diets, high blood pressure and high blood glucose are still responsible for the majority of Australia’s burden of disease, the AIHW report showed.

Public Health Association of Australia CEO Terry Slevin said any national strategy must focus on those with the greatest need and those at greatest disadvantage.

“We know that poverty and minority vulnerabilities have a profound impact on health outcomes.

“Of course, the very best strategy is only the first step. The real benefit only flows if action and investment follow to effectively implement a great strategy,” he said.

The PHAA is calling for a national target of 5% of Australia’s health budget to focus on prevention, up from less than 2% currently.

Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, Jane Martin, said it was important for the government to consider policies as well as programs to prevent obesity. Evidence to support these measures is contained in the newly-launched Obesity Evidence Hub.

“We need restrictions on junk food marketing, price and tax measures, and food labelling,” she said.

“The Obesity Evidence Hub has the evidence around the effectiveness of policies and the impact of overweight and obesity – it’s a really valuable resource for the development of a strategy.”

Emma Lonsdale, Executive Officer of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance (ACDPA), hoped the strategy would focus on population health as well as early detection of disease.

“It’s really important that a prevention strategy should identify all the opportunities for action, that it’s funded, that there are actions with responsibilities, time frames and monitoring,” she said.

Read more reaction to the National Preventive Health Strategy on Croakey.