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A fairer Australia will also help our health: The Smith Family’s Elaine Henry

In the previous post, Professor Fran Baum argues the case for an Australian Health and Equity Commission to help us move to a more equitable society through healthier public policy.

Elaine Henry, CEO of The Smith Family, has added her weight to the call for a broader approach to health that recognises the importance of building caring, equitable, and cohesive communities.

She writes:

“Over the last few decades, our understanding of what it means to be ‘healthy’ in today’s society has changed significantly. So much more than ‘the absence of sickness’, we are now increasingly moving towards the term ‘wellbeing’ to capture the broader socio-emotional elements that give us identity and a sense of contribution in a technology-enabled, globally-networked society.

Thanks to the work of the World Health Organisation and countless other researchers involved in studies such as the Marmot Review recently released in the UK, we know more than ever before about the multitude of factors that contribute to health and wellbeing, which extend beyond prescriptions and medications to encompass the quality of our environment, the kinds of food we eat and the relationships we have with those around us.

As a nation, Australia has always viewed itself as ‘the lucky country’, the land of the ‘fair go’ with a climate and environment more than conducive to a healthy outdoor lifestyle.

Why then, are all the indicators around wellbeing suggesting that we are actually going backwards? Why has the mental health of our youth deteriorated to such an extent that suicide has become the single greatest cause of death for those under 35? Why have we now overtaken the US in wearing the unenviable mantle of being the most obese nation in the world? And why is the life expectancy of Australian children alive today predicted to fall two years by the time they are 20 years old, reverting to levels not seen since 2001 for males and 1997 for females?

Part of the answer would seem to lie in our persistence as a nation to treat issues such as health in isolation from those such as education and the economy, to which it is closely interrelated through a complex cause/effect relationship. This has occurred at a policy level, where the focus of governments has been (particularly in election years like this one) on increasing hospital beds, reducing waiting lists or elevating the ratios of doctors to patients in different communities.

It has occurred within our communities, where there are now fewer welcoming places for kids to play / exercise with their peers. It has also occurred within our classrooms, where the knowledge and skills to cook and eat healthily (once the domain of Home Economics classes) have been squeezed out of the curriculum. But of greatest concern is its absence in the home environment, where the breakdown of the family unit and the increased stress in maintaining work/life balances has reduced the capacity of many parents to role model positive health practices.

This is particularly the case in time and resource-poor lone parent families, who make up the vast majority of those we work with at The Smith Family and whose children live in communities where an abundance of cheap fast food outlets has made eating burgers a cultural norm. Without supportive networks and equal opportunities to belong, these families become trapped in a cycle of low self-esteem in which there is little incentive to eat well and be healthy.

Creating a happy, healthy Australia is therefore also about empowering our population through education – education that will unlock not just the understanding of the many factors that impact health and wellbeing, but also the relationships and emotional skills to act proactively on this knowledge. At The Smith Family, we approach this through a suite of integrated literacy programs we call Learning for Life that are designed to provide disadvantaged kids and their families with seven ‘literacies’ that include health literacy as well as emotional, financial and digital literacy.

To provide these educational opportunities, The Smith Family works across government portfolios and research disciplines, connecting and engaging a wide variety of stakeholders to play their part in what is a ‘whole of community’ responsibility. For example, our Learning for Life parents attend cooking and nutrition classes that also support new arrivals / refugees in the community to learn about Australian food, before learning the financial skills required to manage a budget for healthy eating. At the same time, their children might be presented with a new bicycle assembled by a team of volunteers from our corporate partners, who then go on to teach them how to ride.

The point is, the goal of building a healthier Australia is essentially indivisible from that of creating a more caring, equitable and cohesive community. It requires a comprehensive, systems-wide approach from both the top down and the bottom up, with the learning and development of our disadvantaged at its core. Only then might we stand a fighting chance of reversing the negative trends that at present seem destined to shape the health of our future generations.”

Comments 2

  1. One of the biggest issues for individual health is our belief and faith in the so called “professionals”. We trust doctors or health professional implicitly, believing that “they know best” even though they have never lived in our own bodies. The philosophy that the body is a machine is a very limited way of viewing our health. This results in externally applied standards e.g. the diet sheet and RDI numbers, and we loose are ability to know and choose for our own bodies.

    Clare Mann
    Psychologist Sydney NSW

  2. keepingthemdown says:

    I gather the impression that its all about the lowest common denominator and keeping us down. while billions are spent channeling people who are out of work into useless case management that channels them into dead end short term jobs and into courses for essentially unskilled work, while those who want tertiary quals have to pay for their own books and when young, can’t get full benefits as of right, regardless of parental means, when being away from home to study. I was denied root canal by a public dental system. Despite our rising rates of inactivity and related diseases, it would probably be more beneifical to give those poor folk a gym membership rather than hanging around at a cost of billions at some useless “employment service” just to be shunted into the dead end jobs that you don’t want your kids to do. I am formerly of a very high SES family but am talked down to constantly and there is no sensitivity or respect, and services received are not culturally appropriate, for example through public housing I live in substandard and undersized accommodation. My former family disapproved of my change of gender among other things, and society only had places for me to do the jobs nobody wanted, despite having had around 90 in my HSC (non-govt school), and never had the opportunity to attend a city university. Whenever you want to do anything, whats a small barrier to a nuisance to the well-off is a big barrier to the underclass. If I even find the system, charities, NGO’s, lazy public master-wannabe servants a labyrinthine, secretive and hostile system then what do others make of it. Why give cheap rooms to derros and hold back those like me………………. we should be encouraging the poor, those who are capable anyway, of aiming for the stars and heaping on them the generosity…………….. or do we want to keep some spots open for the mediocre kids of the rich or sychophantic imported drones.

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Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
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Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
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