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NHMRC

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

The second NHMRC Partnership Centre for Better Health will be established on the theme of ‘Systems Perspectives on Preventing Lifestyle-Related Chronic Health Problems’. This Centre will be jointly governed and funded to the value of $22.6 million over five years by NHMRC, the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA),  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.

NHMRC is pleased to announce that the International Expert Review Panel for this Partnership Centre selected an Investigator Team led by Professor Andrew Wilson. Professor Wilson is currently the Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney.

Professor Wilson and his team recently negotiated the Centre’s work plan, management structure and budget with the funding partners of the Centre with a view to the Partnership Centre’s eventual establishment in mid-2013. 

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 prominent feature of the current policy and program environment is the 2008 Council of Australian Governments’ National Partnership Agreement for Preventive Health (NPAPH). Through the NPAPH the Commonwealth Government has committed $872 million over six years (commencing in 2009-10) for a range of initiatives targeting lifestyle risk factors for chronic disease. This includes substantial funding to the States and Territories to implement disease prevention and health promotion programs. Across the jurisdictions, a diverse range of approaches are underway and Governments have committed to evaluating these. At the national level, the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA) is leading an evaluation of the NPAPH as a system.

These evaluations along with non-NPAPH program evaluations will contribute to the evidence base on what works, with whom and in what context, and to knowledge about effective evaluation methodologies. Synthesis and analysis of this significant and rapidly emerging body of evidence will be critical for future policy and program planning. 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 will be 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.