Local government: Game changers in chronic disease prevention?
Michelle Morgan delivered this presentation at the Public Health Association of Australia’s (PHAA’s) annual prevention conference from 11-13 May 2022.
Local governments are crucial in facilitating and driving preventive health decisions and measures to support communities in their jurisdictions. That work is significant in the Australian state of Tasmania, where the incidence of chronic diseases is the nation’s highest. The state comprises 29 local governments, and most provide preventive health services despite debate about whether such work is part of local government’s functions and whether it should be prioritised. The aim of the research reported here has been to understand that controversy and ask where opportunities may exist to optimise local government’s contribution to preventive health.
Local government personnel and elected members were invited to answer a comprehensive survey and share their views on community health and wellbeing contexts and on how they work with others in local governments — captured by network analysis. They were also asked about their interest in adopting systems thinking, a way to view and engage communities as dynamic, complex systems, which is increasingly being deployed in public health research and practice. With responses from 28 of Tasmania’s 29 local governments, the resounding collective view was that preventive health is prioritised. At the same time, participants called for more diverse sources of funding, more collaboration, a mandate for community health and wellbeing in state legislation, and greater collective effort to build systems thinking capacity. These findings indicate readiness from the local government sector to be a key player in responding to the place-based health needs of their communities. If sufficiently supported, local government could be the game changers in curbing the prevalence of chronic disease in our communities.