We’re all familiar with the chocolate-filled advent calendars that crop up in shops this time of year, but perhaps a healthier choice might be the UK Cochrane Centre’s evidence-based advent calendar. The third day of Christmas, for example, features cranberries; ‘Evidence from 24 studies with almost 4500 people suggests that cranberry products don’t offer any significant benefit in protecting us from infections,’ the calendar helpfully explains.

The Health Wrap doesn’t want to place a dampener on your Yuletide festivities but this report from express.co.uk explains your Christmas tree may be causing your seasonal sniffles. Asthma sufferers beware. And here’s a reminder to cook that Christmas turkey well and good – Express also reports that a new strain of MRSA bacteria has been identified in turkeys in the UK.

For those stumped for present ideas, a health insurance exchange in California  suggests people give the gift of ObamaCare to a young person this Christmas. The campaign includes a website where people can pledge to cover the cost of insurance for a young person, or send e-cards with information about cover options. And here, MamaMia suggests some Christmas charity ideas.

Finally, this video from French charity the Mimi Foundation serves as a reminder to be thankful for the important things like health and family this Christmas – watch the wonderful reactions from cancer patients who have been given makeovers as they see the big ‘reveal’.


Indigenous health wins

While some say the Prime Minister Tony Abbott has failed to give Indigenous health the attention it deserves, this Croakey piece suggests there was a sentiment of goodwill towards the government coming from a recent Indigenous health conference in Perth.

Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia, Des Martin, says with the Abbott at the helm Aboriginal people are closer than ever to the top of the political agenda.

In his report from the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation’s members meeting, Martin writes: “When former politician Fred Chaney told a packed room, most of whom were Aboriginal, that Tony Abbott has good will and a genuine personal interest and investment in the needs of Aboriginal people, I wasn’t sure what would happen.

“These were risky statements to make, given the depth of mistrust many Aboriginal (and non-Aboriginal) people have for politicians past and present: sometimes due to policy and sometimes down to empty promises and token gestures.”

But there is truth to these statements and we should take Abbott and Indigenous Advisory Council chair Warren Mundine seriously and respect their role in Indigenous Affairs, he writes.

Lisa Jackson-Pulver has emphasised the need to share good news stories in Indigenous health in this piece for ABC’s The Drum.

She says the media overlooked some of the positive advances highlighted by the largest-ever survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

“Fewer Indigenous people are taking up smoking, and those who do smoke are giving up the habit,” she writes. “According to the Bureau, the proportion of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 to 17 years who have never smoked has increased from 61% to 77%, with an increase from 34% to 43% for those aged 18 to 24 years.”

It was a result that should have been acknowledged as a win, she says.

Marie McInerney writes for Croakey that a recent Closing the Credibility Gap symposium in Melbourne highlighted Indigenous sporting success. In a separate piece about the symposium, she writes the challenges of dementia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families were also brought into the spotlight.

Fred Tanner – who is of Arabunna, Southern Arrernte and Yankunytjatjara descent – spoke at the symposium about how his active and healthy wife was diagnosed with dementia.

He detailed his search for resources and support, and reflected on how difficult it is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers and communities to access those same services when barriers like language and access to computers and resources is an issue.

But the good news is the problem is being recognised, and Alzheimer’s Australia will launch their first DVD with a specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander focus early next year, called ‘My Brain Matters’. Globally, dementia rates are expected to rise to 135 million by 2050, the first G8 Dementia Summit in London has been told.

Finally, an Indigenous health report from the Australian Medical Association points to recent scientific breakthroughs that help explain why the cycle of Indigenous disadvantage is so hard to break, SBS reports.


A public health grab-bag

The news that McDonald’s will soon be home-delivering to North Parramatta has left people divided.

No-one needs McDelivery, writes Jen Vuk for Daily Life. She refers to a National Health Performance Agency report that recently found western Sydney is the second highest overweight suburb, just behind south western Sydney.

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton told ninemsn; “Why are they introducing it there? Why aren’t they introducing it into Mosman? Because people would be very unlikely to buy it”.

But the Daily Telegraph argues people should be left alone to enjoy their pleasures and their sins – James Morrow writes that he doesn’t begrudge McDonald’s for “trying to make a buck”.

In mental health news, Croakey reports on a unique opportunity from the National Mental Health Commission, which is seeking the contribution of mental health leaders and advocates. Nominees can be a seasoned advocate wanting to take the next step, or those who have not been involved formally, but want to make a contribution, writes Commission chair Allan Fels.

Information about how to apply or nominate someone else can be found here. Applications close December 20.

CEO of SANE Australia Jack Heath writes for Croakey about what Australia can learn from the World Innovation Summit for Health. Combating stigma around mental health, cancer and death emerged as a key theme.

Meanwhile the backlash against a Catalyst documentary on statins continues. The Heart Foundation says it has hard evidence that patients are stopping or changing their statin treatment as a direct result of the program, ABC news reports.

A Foundation survey of more than 1000 Australians taking statins found that almost one in 10 people have stopped taking their prescribed medication because of the program, the report says. However, the report does not say if any of those patients were in fact being inappropriately prescribed, given reports that low-risk Australians are being prescribed the drugs.

Last year, US regulators announced statins would carry warnings they could increase the risk of diabetes and cognitive impairment. And in October Fairfax reported that little is known about the number of people being inappropriately prescribed the drugs.

The Heart Foundation has also weighed in on the finding that healthy diets are more expensive than poor diets by up to $1.50 per day.

In other health scares, Fairfax Media reports that hundreds of people may have been exposed to HIV and other infectious diseases after they received treatment at a Sydney hair replacement clinic. Poor hygiene and waste disposal procedures are blamed.

And for Croakey, Michelle Hughes reflects on a piece in the American Journal of Public Health which examines the essential components needed for success when implementing public health programs.


Cancer screening debates

Cancer diagnosis has again been in the headlines, with Alexandra Barratt writing for The Conversation about this report from the Journal of the American Medical Association. The report says the term cancer should be reserved for life-threatening cancers, which they describe as “lesions with a reasonable likelihood of lethal progression if left untreated”.

“Early cancers and pre-cancers (abnormal cells that could turn cancerous) found by screening tests, such as mammograms and PSA tests, should be renamed without (scary) words such as carcinoma or neoplasia in their title,” Barratt writes. “They suggested they could be renamed IDLEs – indolent lesions of epithelial origin.”

In a separate piece co-authored by Barratt, the recent live breast cancer screening of celebrities on television comes under fire.

Today show co-host Lisa Wilkinson  along with news presenter Georgie Gardner, and Good Morning America host Amy Robach, all had a television mammogram. Robach’s screening led to a diagnosis of breast cancer and a double mastectomy.

“These women have a simple message that’s easy to embrace – mammography screening saves lives,” the piece says. “Sadly, it’s not that simple.”

She believes women often overestimate their risk of getting breast cancer, a perception that may be enhanced by screening program promotions and the publicity generated by celebrities.

However, a report from the ABC has revealed a spike in breast cancers that has doctors and public health experts worried. And WebMD reports on a study published in the journal Breast Cancer Management that found routine screening does in fact lead to a substantial reduction in breast cancer deaths. “Women should be reassured that [mammography] is quite effective,” study researcher Robert Smith who is also senior director of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society told WebMD.

Medical News Today reports that mammograms are crucial to saving lives, but 3D mammography is even more effective than traditional 2D X-ray mammograms, and also results in less false positives.

In other cancer news, The Global Mail reports on a controversial skin cancer trial.


Alcohol and tobacco

A tax hike on tobacco that has come into effect just in time for Christmas will hit those on a low income and with mental illness the hardest, Stock and Land reports. Australian Association of Smoking Cessation Professionals vice-president Colin Mendelsohn says the tax exploits smokers, many of whom are drug addicts who want to quit but can’t.

But ‘quitting aids’ have come under fire too, as public health officials are concerned that Australia’s hard-won success in reducing smoking rates is threatened by the advent of e-cigarettes, Lesley Russell writes for annesummers.com.

A commentary in the Journal of Public Health Policy by Canadian public health researcher Mohammed Al-hamdani calls for graphic advertisements on alcohol packaging in the same style as those found on tobacco packets. The comments were prompted by the fact alcohol is the second biggest source of death and disease globally, The National Post reports.

Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King has criticised the Federal Government’s decision to axe the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council (ADCA). “It shows a worrying attitude by the new Abbott Government to Commonwealth funding for public health,” she writes for Croakey.

She also says rumours persist that the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, a key recommendation of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, will be abolished.

ADCA’s patron Ian Webster AO, also an Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, has also shared his thoughts with Croakey.

In a powerful piece, he says: “The ADCA viewpoint may have ruffled a few feathers on occasions but it was never based on anything other than carefully researched fact.

“Despite that long and proud record, ADCA has emerged as the latest casualty in the new government’s austerity drive – 46 years of work building social capital now looks like it has been dismissed on a whim without any idea of the organisation’s involvement in national health and wellbeing.”

An online petition to save ADCA can be found here.


Healthy bloggers

Founder of Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute, Yoni Freedhoff, shares his experiences and thoughts in all things weight and diet related on his blog, Weighty Matters.

In a recent post, he writes about why he decided to walk away from the Health at Every Size movement.


New Year projections

The Health Wrap will leave you for the year with some health predictions for 2014 from eminent health leaders. Medical Observer asked Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton, and Dean of Medicine at James Cook University Professor Richard Murray, for their thoughts.

It seems doctor shortages are going to be an ongoing issue into the New Year.

“Where are we going to be in a year? We are going to have another year’s worth of interns and we are going to have a bottleneck in 2016 of some several hundred places,” Dr Hambleton writes.

“We still have a shortage of practitioners in Australia.”

Meanwhile Professor Murray says austerity will be the new black, and health must play its part in finding efficiencies while retaining access and quality for patients and communities.

He focuses on electronic health records and says efforts put into eHealth so far need to be salvaged.

“We can broaden it into implementation of an e-health strategy and engage coalface clinicians, communities and, in particular, rural clinicians who are able to offer unique opportunities to get it right,” he says.

This is the last Health Wrap for the year, please let Croakey know what you think should be health priorities in the New Year in the comments below. Have a happy and healthy Christmas [though do indulge in those festive foodstuffs a little!] and the Wrap will resume in February 2014.

Other Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight:

·       Pushing for a national focus on health literacy

·       TPP update: Talks stall as concern grows

·       Identifying the environmental costs of health-related travel

·       Eco-Health symposium to put focus on collective learning, transformational change and health for all

·       “It is like the chicken talking to the duck”: health literacy conference participants call for a user-friendly health system

·       Aboriginal health is everybody’s business

·       College of Physicians’ Board changes under dispute

·       Extended Care Paramedics

·       Such a (deceptively) simple concept: let’s confuse patients less

·       Health Costs Demand Action

·       Pushing for a national focus on health literacy

 You can find previous editions of The Health Wrap here.

Melissa Davey is the Sax Institute’s Communications Manager. She was previously a health and medical reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun Herald. She is completing her Masters of Public Health at the University of Sydney and has a strong interest in public health messaging, body image and mental health. The Sax Institute is a not-for-profit organisation that drives the use of research evidence in health policy and planning. Twitter: @MelissaLDavey







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