The 21st national conference of the Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA) kicks off in Sydney tomorrow.
In collaboration with conference organisers, the Croakey Conference Reporting Service will provide an overview of key sessions and discussions.
In the article below, Suzanne Gleeson, the AHPA’s National President, identifies some of the major challenges facing the field and previews some of the conference keynotes.
It’s time to move our focus beyond “lifestyle change” – but how?
Suzanne Gleeson writes:
The experts who will be presenting at the conference are singing from the same song sheet.
The evidence is clear – we need to move beyond “lifestyle change” to building supportive environments if we are to achieve environments that are supportive of health and wellbeing – not just for some but for all.
But while we agree on what needs to happen, the how is not so clear – and this is the challenge to those of us working in health promotion.
The conference theme – Changing Settings: liveable vibrant healthy places – has been planned to take this agenda forward.
While the conference focuses on workplaces, children’s environments and communities, these are not isolated silos. Children matter. People matter. Places matter. The Planet matters. These are not separate from each other – they are complex, interrelated and interdependent.
Beyond health promotion “messaging”
On Monday we will hear from Professor Mark Dooris, who is Reader in Health and Sustainable Development and Director of the Healthy Settings Unit at the University of Central Lancashire, and also Visiting Professor in Wellbeing at London South Bank University.
He will actually be presenting in Norway on the same topic on the same day so cannot be with us in person; but we will hear from him on video, and he will also be beamed live into the conference for a Q and A.
His presentation draws on the successes and lessons from the past quarter century to inform future practice, highlighting the implications, challenges and principles for practice involved in adopting an holistic and integrated approach to creating healthy sustainable and connected settings.
Amongst other things, he will argue that current health promoting practice that focuses on lifestyle change – the giving of messages to captive audiences in schools, workplaces and communities – doesn’t cut the mustard.
“Like teaching children to swim in a pool of alligators”
Professor Helen Roberts from University College London, says when it comes to creating and maintaining child health, we need to separate the ‘spin from the reality’.
She argues for the need to focus on settings and interventions that influence the determinants of health including transport, housing and education.
Professor Roberts says trying to change children’s health behaviours without trying to change the food and transport environment is like trying to teach them to swim in a pool of alligators!
Her presentation will address ‘what counts’ and ‘what matters’ and will question as well ‘what works’.
The economic argument for investing in early childhood
Associate Professor Lisa Gold, a health economist from Deakin University, is an expert in the economic evaluation of health and social interventions that aim to improve population health and reduce inequalities.
She puts the economic argument for investment in early childhood. The way forward for health promotion, she says, lies in combining the international economic advocacy argument with local evidence on the cost effectiveness of promising interventions across a broad range of children’s environments.
Concerns about lack of evaluation of common programs
Ross Homel, Foundation Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University in Brisbane, says ‘early developmental prevention works’.
However, he says ‘the science to service’ model has not proven to be a great success.
He warns that ‘the most common types of programs used in disadvantaged communities in Australia that revolve around ‘family support and children’s services’ are almost entirely unevaluated … an enormous investment with no evidence for their success. This, he says, is immoral.
Professor Homel will present research results from an Australian study that is amongst the first to put community-based family support services onto a scientific foundation – these are among the first in Australia and internationally.
Mental health at work
Associate Professor Tony LaMontagne, of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, says that mental health problems are common in working populations and many are attributable to working conditions.
If workplace mental health interventions are to realise the greatest population health benefits, they need to reduce work-related risk factors for mental health problems. They also need to promote the positive aspects of work as well as worker strengths and positive capacities.
Associate Professor LaMontagne will present his research aimed at developing an integrated approach to mental health in the workplace.
Focus on the individual in workplaces misplaced
Professor John Buchanan, Director of the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney Business School, will argue that health promotion initiatives that focus on the individual in isolation and the ‘best practices’ in workplaces have only limited prospects for success.
Workplaces can only become enduring, effective sites for health promotion if structures of support are built to help people through key transitions in their working life, he says.
Examples of these structures include:
- quality group apprenticeship arrangements in the employment based training system
- transferability in entitlements such as portable long service leave arrangements to help workers gain time to recuperate and flourish beyond work
- programs that build capacity in middle management
- commitment at executive level management to make sustainable work arrangements central (and not incidental) to mainstream business practice.
• And thanks to George Anderson (Communication Officer for the South Western Sydney and Sydney Local Health District Health Promotion Service) who has volunteered to provide some reports for Croakey on top of what is surely already a rather busy conference schedule.
If any other conference participants/tweeters are interested in contributing to Croakey’s coverage, please get in touch…
• For declarations and details on the Croakey Conference Reporting Service, please see here.