Peak body awards Deakin researchers

21 July 2017

Deakin health researchers have been honoured for their contributions to improving health in Australia and internationally at the annual CAPHIA awards.

The Council of Academic Public Health Institutions in Australia (CAPHIA) last night recognised researchers from Deakin University’s Centre for Population Health Research (CPHR) within the School of Health and Social Development for excellence and innovation in the public health field.

This most recent accolade for Deakin public health researchers comes just days after the subject of Public Health at Deakin was ranked in the world’s top 100 by The Shanghai Rankings Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2017.

The CAPHIA Awards showcase the critical role of Australian universities in conducting ground-breaking research into health.

They also honour the researchers and educators behind improvements in Australians’ health, especially the ways in which they develop innovative methods to educate the next generation of health professionals and work with government and other partners to improve healthcare delivery.

CPHR’s Health Systems Improvement Unit (HSIU) was awarded the 2017 CAPHIA President’s Award for “Improving health globally through international research collaborations.”

Led by Professor Richard Osborne, the HSIU team developed innovative, state-of-the-art tools for understanding disadvantaged groups and co-designing ways to empower individuals, communities and organisations to build equity into health systems.

The CAPHIA award particularly acknowledged the international reach and quality of HSIU’s partnerships with researchers, practitioners and policy-makers around the world.

Professor Osborne said the concept of health literacy – or the ability of individuals to find, understand and use information about health and healthcare – is central to the work of HSIU.

“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), poor health literacy is a key determinant of health, associated with inequitable access to health information and health services.

“The WHO recently released strategies to improve global health and equity where health literacy is positioned as a key pillar for achieving the United Nations 2030 ‘Sustainable Development Goals,’ which include a commitment to ‘leaving no one behind’.

“The work undertaken by the Deakin team has generated practical tools to help countries realise these goals,” he said.

One of the key tools developed by HSIU is the Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ) which measures nine areas of health literacy to help practitioners, organisations and governments identify the health literacy strengths and limitations of individuals and communities.

In only three years, HSIU has made the questionnaire available to 176 projects in 32 countries, including within the Danish, and the upcoming New Zealand and Australian, National Health Surveys.

The HSIU team also developed the Ophelia or “OPtimising HEalth LIteracy and Access” approach to public health practice, which involves the collaboration of a wide range of community members, community leaders and health workers to co-design health literacy interventions based on needs identified within, and by, a community.

“Clear evidence of the Ophelia approach’s utility and impact is shown through its uptake by the State Government of Victoria, by teams in the UK and Nordic countries, and in WHO National Health Literacy Demonstration Projects currently underway in China, Egypt and Myanmar,” Professor Osborne said.

Researchers at CPHR’s Global Obesity Centre were also recognised last night, with project leads Dr Adrian Cameron and Dr Gary Sacks receiving the 2017 CAPHIA Early Career Team Research Award for their research in the Food Policy and Food Environments stream.

Led by Dr Cameron, the Eat Well @ IGA project – a partnership between Deakin, the City of Greater Bendigo, VicHealth and IGA – involves seven independent IGA supermarkets in Bendigo and Geelong in a campaign to promote better food choices.

Funded by a $550,000 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Partnership grant, the study will test how a range of interventions, such as custom signage in trolleys and baskets, healthy end-of-aisle displays and using the Health Star Rating System to highlight products rated 4.5 or 5 stars, can change what sort of foods shoppers buy.

“We want to see if by running this kind of comprehensive intervention, we can make a big difference to how much healthy food is purchased over a sustained period,” Dr Cameron said.

“The great thing is everything we’re introducing is low-cost, scalable and feasible for the retailer, so if we get some positive results, we hope it will encourage IGA to continue and expand the program.”

Dr Sacks led a landmark Australian governments’ food policy rating project supported by The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre involving nutrition and policy experts from 53 organisations across the country.

The study identified critical action areas for Australian governments to tackle the rise of obesity through unhealthy diets.

It found that while Australia is leading the world in some policies to improve population nutrition, such as key aspects of food labelling and keeping nutritious food GST-free, it is falling behind international best practice in areas such developing a national nutrition policy and taking action to reduce exposure of children to marketing of unhealthy food.

“We know action is needed on obesity but this report does more than just state the problem. It maps out where Federal, State and Territory governments can each play a part – it’s a constructive way forward that quantifies how we might address this big-picture challenge,” Dr Sacks said.

“It has drawn on expertise from more than 100 nutritionists, health organisations, academics and community groups and builds a comprehensive picture on where we can act to make the most difference. This collaborative effort makes it all the more powerful.”

Professor Catherine Bennett, Head of School of the School of Health and Social Development, said the awards demonstrate that Deakin researchers are strong leaders and collaborators.

“Our researchers clearly have delivered an outstanding body of work in the field of public health and made a valuable contribution to public health theory, knowledge, policy and practice,” she said.

By Deakin Research

For all media enquiries please contact Deakin’s media team.

From top: Professor Richard Osborne, Dr Gary Sacks, Dr Adrian Cameron

Key Fact

From top: Professor Richard Osborne, Dr Gary Sacks, Dr Adrian Cameron

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