This has been such a week of missed opportunity.

The headlines have been dominated by the Feds urging a local government spend on infrastructure – and fast.

It was a perfect opportunity for the public health crowd to highlight the importance of local government as agents of health. So much of our public debate about health focuses on the role of federal and state governments, which means there is very little attempt to make local government accountable for the many areas in which they influence the community’s health.

Where were the public health voices pushing for some accountability to maximise the health benefits of this new spending? Missing in action, I’m afraid.

So I was very interested to hear that Canada has recently appointed 15 new chairs of applied public health with a brief to do intervention research in population health (in other words, to move beyond just describing health problems and talking about the need for prevention and action on the social determinants of health – to trying to actually DO something).

They are also charged with ensuring that their research is translated into action.

Or as Penny Hawe, from the University of Calgary, told me: “They’re being funded as change agents. They’re not allowed to just sit around being gifted.”

Perhaps if we put some money and muscle into creating population health change agents in Australia, we also end up with some much more interesting and useful public discussions, including about local government’s responsibilities.

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