Government help needed to boost health of SA

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Campaigns to encourage healthy behaviour among South Australians are disjointed, ignore broader societal issues and need greater involvement from state government, a Flinders University review has found.

The research, conducted by Flinders University’s Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity led by Professor Fran Baum, included a review of health promotion activity being run in Adelaide’s southern suburbs during 2019.

“We found a range of services being coordinated by a number of different organisations, with local governments and non-government organisations responsible for the bulk of the activities,” says Dr Anna Roesler from Flinders University’s Caring Futures Institute and lead author of the review published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia.

“The state health departments and local health systems provided very little.”

As part of the review, the team used the World Health Organization’s Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion to analyse each activity and service provided and determine how likely they were to be successful in promoting a healthy lifestyle.

“The biggest issue was that the majority of the activities we identified focussed on individual behavioural changes, such as drinking less alcohol, quitting smoking or reducing obesity,” says Dr Roesler.

“What this does is largely ignores the broader structural issues that affect health that we identified in the area, including unemployment, housing affordability, food security and overall disadvantage.”

In addition, the review found there were no overarching health promotion strategies for the programs to operate within and no coordinating bodies to evaluate the activities.

“What we need is for greater investment from the state government to coordinate health activities across South Australia. Without their involvement the approach is scattered and doesn’t go deeper than individual choices or towards fixing larger systemic issues,” says Dr Roesler.

As well as the review of health activities, the researchers profiled the population in the southern regions of Adelaide in order to better understand the population’s needs.

Their report analysed existing data and found that while overall the region fared well compared to the rest of the state, some areas still experienced persistent concentrated disadvantage and health inequities.

The analysis found:

  • 35 percent of respondents aged 16 and over had a reported mental health diagnosis
  • Two-thirds of adult respondents were overweight or obese
  • 32 percent of respondents aged 16 and over reported having hypertension
  • Less than 10 percent ate the recommended about of vegetables but half ate the recommended amount of fruit
  • A high proportion of people live alone
  • 10 percent of respondents reported issues with food security in the previous year
  • The region has an older population than Australia as a whole, with the average age projected to rise at a faster rate than the rest of SA
  • The outer areas of the region had higher rates of unemployment

“Conducting a rapid health promotion audit in suburban Adelaide, South Australia: Can it contribute to revitalising health promotion?” by Anna Roesler, Connie Musolino, Helen van Eyk, Joanne Flavel, Toby Freeman, Matt Fisher, Colin MacDougall and Fran Baum is published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia. DOI: 10.1002/hpja.517.

The work was supported by a Health Translation SA Rapid Applied Research Translation for Health Impact Grant, 2019 through the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

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Caring Futures Institute College of Nursing and Health Sciences Research Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity