By Lyn Roberts – Published in the Edmonton Journal
Wellness Alberta, a coalition advocating for a culture of better health, is making the case that Alberta should set up a wellness foundation and boost its investment in chronic disease and injury prevention.
The group is urging Alberta to consider the Victoria Health Promotion Foundation model set up by Victoria, Australia. The organization’s principal advisor writes about VicHealth’s work.
VicHealth was the first health promotion foundation in the world and was established by the Victorian Parliament as a part of the Tobacco Act in 1987. It is a unique model as it has a legislative mandate to promote health in the state of Victoria, Australia.
Health promotion helps to prevent illness and disease such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes, cancer, depression and other forms of mental illness. In Victoria, nearly two-thirds of people aged under 75 currently die from preventable causes — with half of these deaths attributed to heart disease, strokes and cancers.
VicHealth receives its funding via the Department of Health, but it is a statutory body with its own independent board and strategic plan.
Our independence is central to our work as it has helped build VicHealth’s reputation among stakeholders and increased our standing with the general public. Without the recognition and trust of these important groups, VicHealth would not have the necessary reach or impact to effect change.
VicHealth’s origins were firmly in sponsorship and counter-marketing. In 1988, VicHealth commenced the buyout of tobacco company sponsorship from sport and arts events and health promotion messages including “Quit” replaced tobacco advertising.
This opportunity signalled the start of an unprecedented effort in tobacco control in Victoria and Australia, which has seen extraordinary success in reducing the impact of smoking. The rate has halved over this period to less than 13 per cent of the population.
While the focus on tobacco control and sport remains (as mandated by legislation), VicHealth’s work today encompasses a broad spectrum of health and well-being priorities. It addresses sensitive and difficult issues, provides a focus on disadvantaged Victorians via the organization’s health equity lens and applies a range of health promotion actions to maximize the potential for effective and sustainable health improvement in the Victorian population.
Victoria has a population of approximately six million people and we work to promote good health and prevent chronic disease with the goal of one million more Victorians with better health and well-being by 2023.
VicHealth has always been an organization that tests ideas and strategies that are promising but yet unproven and supports exploratory endeavour. Through our progressive research and rigorous evaluation we are able to build the evidence base for health promotion and disseminate this knowledge to policy-makers and practitioners around the world.
The absolute strength of VicHealth is our partnerships. As a statewide organization we rely on partnerships to test and establish effective approaches to addressing our priorities, and to engage the public in conversation and debate.
We work in places that “traditional” health bodies don’t focus on, alongside a huge range of partners in schools, communities, sports clubs, workplaces, local councils, the arts and universities.
Our work is tackling the big, tough health issues such as obesity, smoking and mental well-being, alcohol culture change, gender equality and violence against women.
There’s no quick fix to these complex issues; changing understanding, attitudes — and ultimately people’s behaviour in terms of health choices they make every day — takes time.
Critically, long term funding allows us to plan and deliver long term solutions. Investing in health promotion is a really smart use of any government’s health budget as in Australia every dollar invested in prevention can save over five dollars in health spending.
The ultimate aim of VicHealth’s work is to influence policy and practice to support sustainable change.
This model of a health promotion foundation has been adopted in other states in Australia and by other nations. In 2015 our pioneering role in health promotion was acknowledged when the World Health Organization designated VicHealth as a WHO Collaborating Centre for Leadership in Health Promotion.
We applaud the efforts of Wellness Alberta to secure a similar government foundation for Alberta that will help to reduce illness and its burden on health care by improving health outcomes.
Lyn Roberts is principal adviser to VicHealth. The Order of Australia recipient is in Edmonton this week at the invitation of Wellness Alberta for a series of meetings and presentations.
© Edmonton Journal
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