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New push to hold power to account for the health and wellbeing of children and young people

Introduction by Croakey: A systematic effort has launched to push governments and policy making to be more focused on the rights and needs of children and young people, especially those at greatest risk of structural and other inequities.

Decades of an economy focused on growth at all costs, rather than sustainable and equitable growth, has threatened the health and wellbeing of children and young people and future generations, according to health experts involved.

The inaugural edition of The Future Healthy Countdown 2030 has outlined seven domains for indicators to track children’s health and wellbeing, with annual reports leading up to 2030.

The aim is to drive awareness, advocacy and accountability, especially for policymakers and governments, “to ensure children’s and young people’s wellbeing is front and centre in policy decisions over the next seven years”.

A series of related articles, published by The Medical Journal of Australia as a supplement, highlight the cultural determinants of health, the need to address racism, and inequities in education and other social determinants of health – as well as underscoring the importance of the upcoming COP28 for the health and wellbeing of current and future generations.

While other nations, including Wales, Scotland and Nordic countries, have prioritised the wellbeing of children and young people, Australia lacks “coordination and accountability for children’s and young people’s policy, with it being widely dispersed across portfolios and jurisdictions”, the experts say.

VicHealth funded the MJA supplement and had a convening role in scoping and commissioning the articles. Below VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio makes the case for strengthening young people’s power in decision-making.


Sandro Demaio writes:

Despite Australia’s abundant resources and wealth, too many Australian children and young people are faring poorly and inequitably across critical health and wellbeing outcomes.

Like many countries, Australia faces complex problems that threaten the health of children, young people and future generations. These include the climate emergency, obesity, the mental health crisis, and inequities in Australian society.

Prospects for our kids are stagnating or moving backwards in areas such as wealth inequality, physical activity, food security and psychological distress.

One in six Australian kids live in poverty, one in four experience overweight and obesity, and one in seven have a mental disorder.

Children and young people who experience structural and socioeconomic inequities have poorer health and wellbeing outcomes. This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, due to ongoing intergenerational effects of colonisation and other structural and policy failings.

In a country as well-off as ours, these outcomes should prompt deep reflection. Are we ensuring our children have opportunities to live as well as or better than their parents?

Crucial tool

The Future Healthy Countdown 2030, launched today following World Children’s Day last week, will be a crucial tool to address these challenges and pave the way to a healthier, and more equitable and sustainable Australia for our kids and future generations.

Developed in collaboration between the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, the Future Countdown 2030 is a framework for tracking and reporting on the most important health and wellbeing outcomes for Australian children and young people, where change could make a real difference in their lives by 2030.

It covers seven key domains of children and young people’s health and wellbeing: having access to material basics, such as healthy food and quality housing; feeling valued, loved and safe; having a positive sense of identity and culture; young people’s participation in decision-making; learning and employment pathways; and sustainable environments and futures.

It will increase public awareness, strengthen advocacy and help governments put children and young people’s health and wellbeing front and centre of policy decisions between now and 2030.

It’s not just a snapshot but a roadmap towards a healthier future that places children, young people and future generations at the heart of government decision-making.

The Countdown is a collaborative effort, bringing together Australia’s leading experts and the voices and expertise of our young people.

By drawing on the best available evidence and spotlighting critical issues affecting Australian children and young people, it aims to bring about changes across social, political and economic systems to improve the prospects for current and future generations of children.

Dr Sandro Demaio

Policy priorities

The first issue of the Future Healthy Countdown 2030, published in The Medical Journal of Australia last week, highlights key indicators of children and young people’s health and wellbeing, and starts a conversation about priorities for policy change.

These priorities should include higher standards to protect our kids from marketing of harmful products, like vaping, gambling and highly processed food; better policies to address childhood poverty, such as ensuring quality, affordable housing; and improving equitable access to quality education for all Australian kids.

We must build a more inclusive and equitable society, by addressing the structural racism embedded in institutions and systems that underpins disparities in health and wellbeing measures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Countdown also emphasises the need to address issues that cut across these domains and undermine the health of our kids and the planet, including practices that fuel climate change and growing climate anxiety in children and young people.

As we near COP28, a pivotal global forum where leaders are making decisions that will resonate for generations to come, the urgency to address climate change intensifies. It is imperative that governments act now to address the inseparable link between climate action and the health of our young people and future generations.

The Countdown calls for children and young people to be at the heart of policy making, enabling young people’s voices to shape policies for their wellbeing.

Strengthening young people’s power in decision-making is paramount.

A mere eight per cent of 15-19-year-olds participate in political groups and activities, signalling a significant power imbalance. Empowering young people to contribute to decisions that shape their future is not just a moral imperative but a strategic investment in the resilience and prosperity of our society.

The time for action is now. The Countdown provides a path forward, challenging us to prioritise the wellbeing of our children and compelling us to be stewards of a healthier, more equitable future.

Let’s seize the opportunity to make changes that will support the wellbeing of generations to come and ensure every child has the opportunity to live a happy, healthy life.

• Dr Sandro Demaio is CEO of VicHealth

The quote above was featured in the Croakey News bulletin of 23 November.


Further reading

• The MJA (2023) Supplement editorial: A framework for the Future Healthy Countdown 2030: tracking the health and wellbeing of children and young people to hold Australia to account

• Articles in The MJA supplement: Future Healthy Countdown 2030:

• The MJA (2022): The Future Healthy Countdown 2030: holding Australia to account for the health and wellbeing of future generations.


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