Partnership Centre: Systems Perspectives on Preventing Lifestyle-Related Chronic Health Problems

The second NHMRC Partnership Centre for Better Health on the theme of ‘Systems Perspectives on Preventing Lifestyle-Related Chronic Health Problems’ was established in June 2013. This Centre is jointly funded to the value of $22.6 million over five years by NHMRC, the Australian Government Department of Health NSW Health Administration Corporation (NSW Health), the ACT Health Directorate (ACT Health), the Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia and the HCF Health and Medical Research Foundation.

The Centre is led by a Chief Investigator, Professor Andrew Wilson, who is currently the Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney. The Centre’s focus is on primary prevention and chronic health problems, including examining and building the information and actions required to establish a population wide, efficient and effective preventive health system in Australia.

The Theme: ‘Systems Perspectives on Preventing Lifestyle-Related Chronic Health Problems’

The rapid increase in Australia’s chronic disease burden associated with modifiable risk factors has led to a large growth in Government and NGO supported interventions to change behaviours, risk factors and environments. Along with associated research, there are now significant investments aimed at addressing the trends in chronic disease prevalence and cost. Gaps remain, however, in establishing comprehensive understandings and disseminating information for policy and program formulation in a timely and efficient manner.

A key learning from the current evidence base is that programs must be conceived and analysed within the broader systems that lead to particular lifestyles and health consequences. In addition to more traditional health promotion or individualised counselling approaches, the recognition and understanding of the broader systems that shape lifestyle choices is critical.1 System factors include food, education and employment policies and urban planning.

The focus of this Partnership Centre’s Investigator Team is the inter-relation of health and non-health systems with regard to primary prevention and chronic health problems. Day-to-day, the Centre will concentrate on the range of programs, policies, funding structures, data systems, workforce capacities, evidence gaps, implementation experiences, collaborations, accountability mechanisms and even the language of prevention itself, that make it easier or harder to support healthy lifestyle choices and promote health equity. It will undertake an integrated program of work designed to enable policy and program developers to make better decisions about the strategies and structures to prevent lifestyle-related chronic conditions in Australia.

1See for instance: Green LW 2006. Public health asks of systems science: “To advance our evidence-based practice, can you help us get more practice-based evidence?” Amer J Publ Hlth; 96(3): 406-9; Wandersman A et al 2008. Bridging the gap between prevention research and practice: the interactive systems framework for dissemination and implementation. Amer J Community Psychol; 41: 171-81; and Borland R et al 2010. The tobacco use management system: analyzing tobacco control from a systems perspective. Amer J Publ Hlth; 100(7): 1229-36.