The following article is written by Lloyd Bristow, BSc in Physiology and Pharmacology, MSc in Public Health Nutrition.
Lloyd is a Public Health Nutritionist and Senior Lecturer in the Nutrition Team, teaching at Southern School of Natural Therapy (SSNT) and Torrens University Australia (Fitzroy Campus). He is also an active member of the Victorian Healthy Eating Enterprise (VHEE) and has 7 years experience working as a Public Health Nutritionist in a community setting.
“I support students to understand the wider influences that determine population health and nutritional status and explore the best evidenced-based practices to promote health and overcome barriers to healthy diets and lifestyles in a variety of population groups across Australia.”
The focus on prevention
You’ve probably heard the old adage “prevention is better than cure” – but how exactly does this fit into Australia’s Health Care System? Should we focus on prevention rather than treatment of diet-related disease?
In Australian society today, many people require treatment for diseases and conditions that are attributable to poor diet and lifestyle. In fact, just under half (47.3%) of Australians had one or more chronic conditions in 2017-18, an increase from 2007-08 when two-fifths (42.2%) of people had one or more chronic conditions.
Just under 1 million Australians had type 2 diabetes, 1.2 million had heart disease and 432,400 were diagnosed with cancer in 2017-18. The aforementioned diseases, that are largely diet and lifestyle attributable and have obesity as a major risk factor are causing more deaths than ever before and are a major focus of many prevention initiatives. Health promotion aims to prevent but of course, treatment is required for the millions impacted by these conditions.
Chronic disease costs Australians $27 billion annually. Whereas only $2 billion is spent on preventative health.
Treatment often comes in the form of medication, surgery and/or long term care or management – all of which uses a great deal of time, money and resources. These are known as downstream actions. Treating chronic disease is thought to cost the Australian community an approximate $27 billion annually whereas only just over $2 billion is spent on preventative health.
From a health perspective, preventing our population from becoming ill is a no-brainer – it will save governments money, alleviate the burden placed on health resources and ensure people live a better quality of life. It is estimated that for every $1 spent on prevention, up to $4 would be saved from not having to treat chronic illness.
Looking upstream, and preventing the need for these downstream actions, is the focus of public health professionals, including public health nutritionists. Prevention (and/or health promotion) can be in the guise of public health policy (think sugar tax!), provision of nutrition education, creating healthier environments (think more green space and less fast food outlets!) and ensuring all have adequate access to healthy, affordable food and healthcare.
Data from the latest Australian Health Survey suggests the typical Australian is a non-smoker, is overweight or obese, eats too few vegetables and does 42 minutes of exercise every day. Some great inroads have been made to promote health in our diverse populations but many challenges still lay ahead.
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