Melissa Davey

Once you’re done with the Health Wrap, be sure to check out this Croakey round-up of health news to make you smile.


What about the children?

Regulation of alcohol advertising is failing to properly protect children and adolescents, and in some cases is enabling their exposure to alcohol advertising, according to this report from Australia’s National Preventive Health Agency.

The agency says the failings are largely due to advertising of alcohol during live sporting events and public holidays, and recommends media industry bodies develop stronger codes. Action around online alcohol promotions and sponsorships is sorely needed, it says. In response, the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol tweets that it’s “time to close the loophole” exposing Australian children to advertising by ending “the charade of industry self-regulation”.

Croakey provides this comprehensive overview of the report, which calls for closure of a loophole allowing free-to-air TV alcohol advertising before 8.30pm during live sports broadcasts on weekends and public holidays. The piece, by Croakey contributor Marie McInerney, also challenges the federal government to open up on defunding decisions, asking why the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia was a target.

As Drink Tank writes: “The Abbott Government’s decision to defund the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia was sudden, swift and unexpected. Past and present presidents of ADCA condemned the decision as ‘hasty and poorly considered’.”

Meanwhile, two Queensland academics have analysed an alcohol industry-sponsored DrinkWise campaign called ‘Drinking – do it properly,’ concluding that it promotes drinking as a “cool thing to do”.

The Health Wrap will give the final word on alcohol to public health professor Mike Daube and his response to a Crikey  piece by journalist Bernard Keene. Keane cited an anonymous senior public health figure as suggesting that public health experts are unwilling to work with the alcohol industry and therefore are “undermining campaigns to reduce drinking among at-risk groups” – a comment Professor Daube has a thing or two to say about.

Children’s rights are also a key focus for an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry, which will investigate how life in immigration detention affects their health, well-being and development, and Croakey is helping to compile submissions.

Jaelea Skehan and Gavin Hazel from the Hunter Institute of Mental Health write that quality of life in childhood and adolescence has a significant impact on emotional, social and psychological development. They describe the unavoidable and significant impact that being in detention has on child health, with families often separated across detention facilities.

The immigration detention of children amounts to systematic child abuse, writes psychiatrist Professor Alan Rosen for Croakey, in a powerful piece that says Australians are being groomed by the federal government to be complicit in abuse of children in immigration detention, “ironically even while we are running national and state judicial commissions on the systematic abuse of children”. The issue also prompted this editorial from The Age.

Malignant brain tumours are the most common cause of cancer death in children, writes the Director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, Brandon Wainwright, for The Conversation. With his colleagues, he has identified 53 genes that appear to drive the development of the aggressive cancer, a step towards improving treatments.

Also writing for The Conversation, Professor of Environmental Science at Macquarie University, Mark Taylor, writes that some of the chemicals known to cause serious neurological and behavioural problems are still used in industrial products or are found in the environment, making keeping track of their use and distribution nearly impossible.

Caring for the elderly

A special report in the Washington Post explores the impact of adults becoming children again as they progress into old age and become unable to care for themselves. Families, often the first to provide ongoing care for their ageing relatives, will prove increasingly critical to America’s aged care system, the piece says. It’s part of a whole series on caregiving – at once eye opening, harrowing and beautiful.

Researchers at the University of Kent have developed a novel way to help elderly people remain independent for longer, creating an intelligent ‘avatar’ which would detect whether people are in pain and alert emergency services. The avatar would appear as a figure on a television screen, a tablet computer or as a hologram, say the researchers, who are taking part in a project to support Britain’s ageing population. It could monitor heart rate and blood pressure, remind people to take medication and would know if someone had fallen over or was in pain.

Food industry battles

Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash is back in the headlines. In recent weeks, her former chief of staff resigned after it was revealed he had an interest in a firm that lobbied for junk food companies. She also came under fire for ordering the Health Department to take down its food rating website hours after it went live, even though she had not met with major public health bodies including the Heart Foundation and Cancer Council.

Now, Senator Nash has been censured in the Senate over conflict of interest claims, with Labor and the Greens claiming she misled the Upper House several times in recent weeks over her former chief of staff’s links to the confectionery industry. The ABC reports the parties used their superior numbers in the Senate to interrupt Question Time and pass a censure motion, calling on Senator Nash to resign. And Marie McInerney documents how Senator Nash put in a performance worthy of Yes Minister at a Senates Estimates hearing.

Meanwhile Croakey reports on a NACCHO health promotion campaign that went viral: Isn’t it about time we took health advice from the fast food industry? The tweet (below) reached more than three million people over the past week in Australia, North and South America, Europe, Canada, South East Asia and the UK.

Finally, the World Health Organization has advised that the daily allowance for a person’s sugar intake should be halved to six teaspoons, with draft guidance published by the international body recommending the dramatic reduction to help avoid growing health problems including obesity and tooth decay.

Diet obsessions

The debate over saturated fat is hotting up, writes Professor of Public Health at the University of Auckland Grant Schofield, for The Conversation. He writes that many people believe eating fat seems to do little harm and can add some benefit when combined with eating less processed sugars and other carbohydrates.

“The thing is that science isn’t a democracy,” he writes. “We don’t have a vote and the most popular hypothesis wins. We deal with evidence, and as such we should be prepared to constantly change our mind as new evidence emerges.”

Society’s obsession with finding the ideal diet and reaching an ideal weight has led to some resorting to dangerous methods to achieve the ‘perfect’ body. The Conversation reports on a study from the Medical Journal of Australia, which found a growing number of Australians are illicitly using the drug clenbuterol to lose weight and build muscle mass.

By doing so, they’re putting themselves at risk of a heart attack – the drug is only legally prescribed in Australia as an airway dilator for horses. Calls to the NSW Poisons Information Centre about exposure to the drug rose from three in 2008 to 27 in 2012, the study found. Meanwhile, The Conversation reports on the sad and disturbing prevalence of pro-anorexia websites which they say are flourishing on the internet.
Many people try to keep tabs on their weight by endlessly checking the scales, but Dr Melissa Stoneham explores a recent study on the impact of scale watching in this piece for Croakey.  Regular self-weighing has been a focus of attention recently in the obesity literature, she writes, receiving conflicting endorsement.

But she writes that a new study, titled Daily Self-Weighing and Adverse Psychological Outcomes: A Randomised Controlled Trial published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine investigated the impact of a daily self-weighing weight loss intervention and found it did not cause adverse psychological outcomes among overweight and obese adults. But she adds that good health isn’t always measured in kilograms, and that for many trying to shed kilos, the elation from that initial weight loss can be brought to a screeching halt when the scales stop moving.

Rural and Indigenous health funding boosts urged

Rural doctors have urged the federal government to boost regional healthcare in its May budget, with better targeted incentives to help attract doctors outside the capital cities, the Northern Star reports. In its budget submission the Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr Ian Kamerman said all rural health investment needed to be targeted to lay the groundwork for a stronger workforce in the future.

Rural communities have a health advocate in medical student Skye Kinder, who has been named the City of Greater Bendigo’s Young Citizen of the Year for her dedication to rural health promotion, The Age reports. At just 22, she has worked with leading researchers and represented Australia in conferences abroad, spending much of her time working to raise awareness of the key issues that exist in rural health to encourage change, using social media as a key tool.

Meanwhile, vulnerable families will be hard-hit by funding cuts, writes Summer May Finlay for Croakey, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott  making significant changes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs in the short time he has been in office. Last year the government announced it would cut $3.5 million from the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services over the next three years.

Finally, an Australian-first dementia risk-reduction program has been launched for Indigenous communities in a new Alzheimer’s Australia campaign aimed at reducing the disadvantage gap, The Australian reports.

Health system costs

A new report by the Grattan Institute says a better pricing system for public hospital treatment would show where costs are too high, and free up $1 billion for more and better healthcare. The gulf between treatments in high- and low-cost hospitals in Australia is vast, with no good reason for such variation, the report says, urging state governments to make three key reforms.

These are: paying hospitals for treatments on the basis of an average price once all measurable avoidable costs have been removed; making data available to hospitals so they can compare themselves to their peers; and governments getting tougher and holding hospital boards to account when they fail to control costs.

But in this post for Croakey, a health policy analyst writes under a pseudonym about why the latest Grattan report is based on inadequate data. The report uses past estimates of resource use to estimate current resource use, he writes, which is unreliable and highly variable.

Healthy bloggers

Broome Docs is a website aimed at rural and country doctors but provides interesting reading for general health enthusiasts as well. It’s a fascinating insight into the working lives of doctors in the country who have to deal with all kinds of situations thrown their way.

Other Croakey reading you may have missed this fortnight

Turmoil for Queensland doctors as contracts introduced

Change Day 2013 6th March 2013

GP co-payments and over servicing, what does the evidence tell us?

Medical Board responds to concerns about new social media policy

Social determinants of health: building bridges between sectors and tackling racism

Hazelwood mine fire: health risks and public health response options

Hazelwood open-cut mine fire: a slow burning public health issue?

On breaking down the barriers between health and legal issues: insights from @fionalander as @wepublichealth

Wind farms: no reliable evidence of health risks, says National Health and Medical Research Council

‘No comment’: now the Medical Board tests social media landscape with advertising guidelines

You can find previous editions of The Health Wrap here. Got a story you think the Health Wrap should highlight? Contact @MelissaLDavey or my colleague Kellie Bisset @medicalmedia on Twitter.

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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