Health promotion is focused on the future, so it’s not surprising VicHealth’s recently-convened event, ‘Health Promotion: What does the future hold?’, sold out within 48 hours.
Public Health consultant, Rebecca Zosel, was one of the lucky ticket holders. Below she wraps what sounds like a lively and productive discussion by a well-qualified panel, about choosing your partners, knowing your enemies, dusting off your combat boots, and keeping an open mind.
Rebecca Zosel writes:
VicHealth’s recent event ‘Health Promotion: What does the future hold?’ was a breath of fresh air.
The event had a broad focus on sector trends, which flies in the face of an increasingly siloed field. It brought together different players, to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing health promotion, both today and into the future.
Interest in the event was high from the get-go, with tickets selling out within 48 hours. On the day, almost 200 people attended, a further 1000 people viewed through Facebook Live, and #HPInsights – the event hashtag – trended on Twitter in Melbourne.
The event, which marked 30 years since VicHealth was established as the world’s first health promotion foundation, provided a chance to connect with peers and hear from global health promotion experts.
The stellar panel, facilitated by Lyn Roberts AO, featured Professor Rob Moodie (Professor of Public Health at the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health), Dr Sandro Demaio (Co-founder NCDFREE and medical doctor with WHO, Geneva) and Ms Jerril Rechter (VicHealth CEO and Chair International Network of Health Promotion Foundations).
Partnerships were a central theme of the conversation. Key take outs were:
- Partnerships are critical – but we need to partner with different people (see tweet)
- Partnerships create power
- Most of our greatest global challenges are complex but converging – the solutions need to be simple and cross-cutting
- We are good at talking to ourselves – we must get better at talking to people who need our information
- We should have regular conversations with people who think differently from us – it is important to avoid the echo chamber… chamber… chamber…
So what is available to support partnership work? VicHealth’s Partnerships Analysis Tool is a good resource and there are examples of innovative partnerships in action, as Prof Moodie points out: “The Cancer Council Victoria does a fabulous job in using public health lawyers and journalists– in tobacco control, alcohol and obesity, and Dr Bronwyn King’s work on tobacco Free Investment with the super funds and banks is a fascinating partnership”.
Jerril Rechter, VicHealth, spoke of a number of known challenges, while recognising that other, unknown challenges, exist over the horizon. She told the group,
“While we can’t predict what the future will bring, current and emerging issues such as the unrelenting efforts of industry who put profits over health; increasingly tight health budgets in the face of an ageing population; and a rise in chronic disease and social disadvantage which will continue to put those with the least at highest risk of poor health”
Other challenges discussed included:
- The double burden of malnutrition: globally, 815 million people are hungry, yet 1.9 billion are overweight
- Powerful commercial entities promoting unhealthy products, including new (harmful) products that will be marketed (e.g. heated tobacco products), digital marketing to children, and new apps that can be used to market to children
- The lack of political appetite for regulatory/policy change
- Poor understanding of health promotion
- Under-funding of the health promotion field.
Opportunities for health promotion
Dr Sandro Demaio, WHO, highlighted the opportunities that lie in rethinking our health promotion approach:
“I urge everyone to map out the power and accountability flows that exist in society as we have it, not as we wish it was – and then use this understanding to identify ways to realign this power to protect and promote health.”
Sandro also reminded us all of the power of language, ensuring we don’t just speak among ourselves but find ways to frame urgent health challenges that resonate across communities and lead to “lightbulb moments that drive policy demands”.
Other opportunities included:
- Learn more about big industry (the science of ‘corporatology’) – tobacco, fast food, soft drinks and alcohol
- Develop new health promotion approaches (see tweet)
- Grow and diversify health promotion’s revenue stream
- See non-health platforms as key opportunities for health gains, including urban and food systems
- Raise the profile of, and investment in, health promotion (see tweet)
There are many areas that health promotion needs to explore in order to learn more about industry and the commercial determinants of health. These insights from Prof Rob Moodie and Dr Sandro Demaio provide a great starting point for action:
- We need to stop lumping all of the private sector together. While we should seek to understand the motives, intents and modi operandi of the harmful industries, we should also pay attention to the much less harmful industries, and the ones we can actively work with, e.g. insurance, telecommunications, professional services etc. While some industries have no interest in the health of populations, some are highly aligned in their long-term ambitions and may represent important impact partners.
- With alcohol, we need to closely monitor upstream drivers of harmful consumption such as alcohol production, cost, availability, advertising, sponsorship, political donations, funding of research and the legislative and regulatory environment relevant to alcohol.
- Bronwyn King’s work with the super funds and banks to get them to disinvest from tobacco is another terrific example of understanding different industries.
- Key to working with aligned, private sector actors as well as addressing the commercial drivers of disease, is speaking their language and better understanding their drivers and goals.
Rising to the challenge
Ms Rechter’s closing remark was powerful:
“Ultimately our challenge and ultimate goal is for our future generations to inherit a world that’s in a better shape than when we inherited it. Evidence has clearly demonstrated that health promotion will be key for us to achieve this goal.”
Dr Demaio left us with two pertinent challenges (see tweet):
Prof Moodie believes that health promotion has to become much more combative, with a much stronger focus on evidence-based advocacy and on evidence -based lobbying.
The hour flew by and we really only scratched the surface. VicHealth have confirmed they will be hosting more Health Promotion Insights events in 2018. Stay tuned for more information early next year but in the meantime, the panel suggested the following topics for future events:
- Bring new partners together to establish ideas for working together, e.g. the insurance industry(ies) and health promotion – Prof Moodie
- Rethinking health promotion practice: how to build fit-for-purpose and sustainable models in the face of protracted and powerful commercial counter-currents – Dr Demaio
If you missed the event, you can watch the video on https://www.facebook.com/VicHealth/videos/10154719899935989/. The event hashtag is #HPInsights
*Rebecca Zosel is a Public Health Consultant. Her current clients include VicHealth. On Twitter, @rzosel