Can we rebuild fairer? Health promotion panel calls for more action to reduce inequalities – Croakey Health Media

Introduction by Croakey: Health promotion and public health practitioners heard a resounding call to advocate for more equitable policies during a webinar hosted by the Australian Health Promotion Association last month.

The event titled “Putting Equity and the Social Determinants of Health at the Heart of Prevention” featured discussions from world-renowned professor and epidemiologist Sir Michael Marmot and a panel of Australian health promotion practitioners and of Public Health chaired by Professor Fran Baum AO.

Kate Ditchburn, Engagement Coordinator at the Victorian Healthcare Association and member of the AHPA Students and Early Career Practitioners Committee, reports below on the event.


Kate Ditchburn writes:

Health advocates in Australia have been urged to continue pushing for more equitable politics – pushing as many different doors as it takes to advance action on the social determinants of health and health equity .

Speaking at a recent Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA) event, world-renowned epidemiologist Professor Sir Michael Marmot urged fellow Australians to advocate for healthy public policy, including fighting against discrimination.

Marmot, who is also director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity, encouraged his colleagues to engage with different avenues of influence like local governments, international audiences and anyone else who will listen.

“I push a door, if it doesn’t open, I don’t bang my head against the door, I’m going to push another door,” he said.

Marmot presented research showing a ‘slowdown’ in positive health outcomes and growing inequalities in England, including a drop in life expectancy for the poorest populations. The proportion of excess deaths in England in 2019 is also higher in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived.

Image: Excess deaths in each area deprivation decile, based on the 2019 Multiple Deprivation Index, by sex, England. Source: Institute for Health Equity

Marmot blamed poor public policy and cut public spending in England as a driver of rising inequality, urging Australians to seek a fairer trajectory.

He outlined the principles of healthy public policy, including healthy living standards, education and lifelong learning, environmental sustainability, healthy communities and anti-discrimination.

In response to Marmot’s presentation, a panel of Australian public health experts echoed calls for strong social policy to reduce inequalities.

Epidemiologist Dr Kalinda Griffiths spoke about the value of data in identifying critical areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

“The way we measure things provides important information about who needs what and where,” she said.

For example, Aboriginal people in New South Wales are twice as likely to die of lung cancer as non-Aboriginal people. However, Indigenous people in outlying and remote areas are eight times more likely to die from lung cancer, but Indigenous people in metropolitan areas have the same outcomes as non-Indigenous people. Data like this provides valuable information for policy-making.

Edwina Macdonald, Deputy Co-Chief Executive of the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), presented a report stating that income, employment and socio-economic status are strong indicators of health.

Some key findings include that 50% of people under 65 whose main source of income is government support reported mental health problems, compared to 18% of the general population. In addition, 60% of high-income people report being in good health, compared to 32% of low-income people.

Image: conclusions of the ACOSS report

Essential Communications

During the webinar, I presented the influence of strategic communications to maximize the impact of public health promotion. Effective communications can spark public interest, persuade decision makers and support those affected by inequality.

I encouraged people to avoid framing health inequities with medical messaging, and instead share strong personal stories and social values ​​behind inequities to motivate change.

Moderated by Professor Fran Baum AO, the panel discussed putting social determinants and inequality on the agenda of Australia’s new government.

Despite worrying trends of increased inequality and growing social disadvantage, the panel remained optimistic that there is now good momentum to target inequality and advance public health.

There is a move towards a better understanding of social determinants and inequalities in policy, but the next challenge is to turn knowledge into effective policies that can reduce inequalities and improve health outcomes for all.

Marmot encouraged the panel and attendees to continue pushing for a fairer policy.

About the Author

Kate Ditchburn is a public health professional from Melbourne. She is currently the Engagement Coordinator at the Victorian Healthcare Association and works with other non-profit organizations including Women with Disabilities Victoria and The Water Well Project. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in health promotion and enjoys combining her interests in communications and health. Kate is driven by a desire to reduce health inequities and has a particular interest in women’s health. Kate is a member of the Student and Early Career Practitioner Committee of the Australian Health Promotion Association. AHPA member Alyssa Monte helped her write this article.

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