Perceptions of prevention: what does the Australian community think?

Project title: AUSPOPS – AUStralian Perceptions Of Prevention Survey

What is the issue?

There is debate currently about what role the government should play in regulation for preventive health. Some commentators view government regulation and health promotion activities as constituting a ‘nanny state’ that is overly controlling of individual choice and freedom regarding their health. Determining the right balance of government intervention and personal choice is a challenging issue for complex problems such as the prevention of lifestyle-related chronic disease. Therefore, gaining a better understanding of community awareness, attitudes and values regarding chronic disease prevention policies and programs is key to optimising communication and formulation of public health action.

Decisions regarding various policy options for prevention may gain or lose momentum depending on policymakers’ perceptions of how the policy may be received by the general public. Health promotion advocates argue that the current anti-intervention narrative discourages government from committing to the more effective systemic changes needed to effect population level change.

How did the project address the issue?

In Australia, there has been little research conducted to better understand community knowledge and attitudes regarding people’s understanding of prevention and of policies and programs to improve lifestyle-related chronic disease. In 2016, we conducted a national population survey to quantify community attitudes and values towards government intervention and development of policies and programs for the prevention of lifestyle-related chronic diseases (AUSPOPS). Formative research using focus groups were conducted to inform survey development.

What were the outcomes?

The research is expected to show how the Australian community views government intervention for the purpose of health prevention, and how these perceptions may vary over demographic and health-related factors.

Relevance for practice

Exploring and measuring community perceptions of prevention through primary research will assist policymakers gain a more direct indicator of community attitudes and the logic which underpins them.

First funding phase: October 2015 to June 2018

Second funding phase: July 2021 to December 2021

Project leads

Project team

The first phase of funding for this project (October 2015 to June 2018) was provided by the NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, NSW Ministry of Health, ACT Health and the HCF Research Foundation.

The second phase of funding for this project (July to December 2021) was provided by the NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, ACT Health, Cancer Council Australia, NSW Ministry of Health, Wellbeing SA, Tasmanian Department of Health, and VicHealth.


  • Six focus groups were completed in April 2016
  • The first survey was completed in July 2016
  • Qualitative data have been re-analysed
  • Quantitative data have been cleaned and preliminary analyses undertaken
  • A mixed methods paper examining perceptions of the role of government in prevention has been drafted
  • Work has started on a second AUSPOPs survey based on findings from the first survey.
  • Preliminary findings were presented at the World Public Congress on Public Health, Melbourne, April 2017.