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Analysis and Comment (96)

A woman stands outside a makeshift toilet built by a resident of a slum colony based on the bank of the Yamuna River, India. Flickr/Gates Foundation

Providing the toilets people want will help Clean India’s campaign

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has wowed audiences in Australia during his recent visit and used the occasion to remind people of his plan to provide a toilet at home for all Indians by 2019. The…
Lack of proper sanitation, as in these homes in Dhaka, Bangladesh, creates all sorts of risks to social and economic wellbeing.

Imagine life without a proper toilet: that’s the reality for 1 in 3 people

It’s 2014. So why do we still need World Toilet Day? Because 2.5 billion people still need one. World Toilet Day remains a critical means to raise awareness globally about one of the many important things…
Short-term panic draws attention away from long-term solutions. Paul Hanna/Reuters

Panic and precaution: Ebola and the outbreak narrative

It does not make the news when a two year old boy dies of Ebola in Guinea. Nor when his sister, his mother and his grandmother succumb. It takes time for local officials to recognize an outbreak. By the…
Big Food in Australia is not the same as the industry in the United States, where much of the popular media has come from. Steven Caddy/Flickr

Big Food with a regional flavour: how Australia’s food lobby works

Criticism of the food industry has itself become a niche industry. But the tendency to embrace a US-centric conception of how the industry works risks masking local variants and inhibiting a targeted response…
Ideally lollies, biscuits, sugar-sweetened drinks, potato crisps and processed meats will never appear in your shopping trolley. Matt/Flickr

Health Check: five foods to always avoid at the supermarket

Want to stack the nutrition odds in your favour? The key is good food so here are five things to never let into your shopping trolley: lollies, biscuits, sugar-sweetened drinks, potato crisps and processed…
Bombardment of the Gaza Strip is having devastating effects. Mohammed Saber/EPA

The Israeli assault on Gaza: a public health perspective

It is three weeks since the current Israeli offensive against Gaza began on July 8. But it is now eight years since Israel began its blockade of Gaza. Since then unemployment has risen, public infrastructure…
The health star rating system aims to provide convenient and easily understood nutritional information on food packs. eddie welker/Flickr

After three-year saga, health star rating labels finally ready to go

Assistant health minister Fiona Nash has announced that Australian and New Zealand ministers responsible for food policy and regulation have signed off on the health star rating system for front-of-pack…
Life expectancy continues to rise, and years lived with disability decline. Ozgur Coskun/Shutterstock

Australia’s Health 2014 report card: experts respond

Australians have one the longest life expectancies in the world but are living with growing levels of lifestyle-induced chronic illness, according to the latest national health report card. The Australian…
Equity isn’t just a nice idea, it’s also how we create a better society. Richard Potts/Flickr

Why the federal budget is bad for health and worse for society

Despite government claims that the budget would be fair and all Australians would contribute to the “budget rescue job”, reality has not supported these claims. And this is bad news for health and social…
The budget has introduced a $7 co-payment for visits to the general practitioners. Dave Hunt/AAP

Federal budget 2014: health experts react

The Abbott government has announced a A$20 billion medical research “future fund”, to help discover what Treasurer Joe Hockey calls the “cures of the future”, paid for with money generated as a result…
Our changing food environment has undermined our capacity to be responsible in the first place. Shutterstock

Fat nation: why so many Australians are obese and how to fix it

In 1980 just 10% of Australian adults were obese; by 2012 this figure had risen to 25%, among the highest in the world. The food industry lobby and their friends in government would have us believe this…
Earlier closing times for pubs and bars is the key to preventing alcohol-fuelled assaults. André Hofmeister/Flickr

Earlier pub closing times key to reducing alcohol-fuelled assaults

Earlier pub closing times have a large impact on curbing alcohol-fuelled violence, according to research my colleagues and I have published today in the international peer-reviewed journal Drug & Alcohol…
Today’s global HIV statistics reflect increasingly risky sexual practices. Shutterstock

To curb rising HIV rates, we must target our human flaws

One of the most perplexing risks to public health is human nature. No matter how diligently public health campaigns lay out the facts, we continue to make seemingly illogical decisions. Just look at the…
Pop up e-cig bar. Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Explainer: what do we know about e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are increasingly popular in a number of countries including the UK, while in others such as Norway and Brazil they are banned altogether. So amid all these differences in policy, what do we…
Saved by the bell. NASA/GFSC/Rebecca Roth

School networks will help plan for the next flu pandemic

Lack of exposure to a particular influenza strain means you won’t have had a chance to build up complete immunity. And if the strain spreads easily between people and there is little immunity in communities…
Boarded up: how companies are trumping our health. Eschipul

Beware, secret trade deals can seriously damage your health

If I asked you to name some of the current threats to your health, “international trade law” probably wouldn’t be on the tip of your tongue. Yet trade agreements, and the way we negotiate them, can affect…
There’s evidence that people in the highest socioeconomic groups are given priority for both urgent and non-urgent procedures in NSW public hospitals. Ralf Heß/Flickr

Being poor in NSW means a longer wait to get into hospital

Australia’s public health system is ostensibly based on the notion of equity of access. But research recently published by my colleagues and I shows this is not the case in New South Wales public hospitals…
Unnecessary anxiety is a media health risk. Vincent Yu/AP/PA

Health experts with pharma links more likely to talk up risk

When new health threats emerge, the media is often accused of hyping up the risk to the public. But we tend to believe that health experts provide rational, independent viewpoints on the real risks posed…
The writing was on the wall for some in city licensing review. Andy Bell

Police attitude to sex saunas is wrong, bizarre and dangerous

Scottish police were forced to issue a statement that they did “not advocate the banning of condoms” after a BBC report, which ran under the headline “Police ask for condom ban in Edinburgh saunas”, said…
Consumption of fruits and vegetables can be expected to fall if their price goes up. shaun/Flickr

Taxing fresh foods could have a big, bad health impact

A simmering discussion about Australia’s goods and services tax (GST) flared up again straight after the election, with WA Premier Colin Barnett arguing for an increase in the GST rate and a broadening…
Poster girl Beth Ditto. Dan Taylor

Fat activists on the offensive in war on obesity

Obesity is commonly regarded as one of the most significant threats to health in the developed world. It is strongly linked with cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and impaired mobility. Governments…
Dung beetles love the Milky Way because they use it for navigation. No, seriously they do. mattvisser

Ig Nobels 2013: from attaching penises to stargazing beetles

This year’s Ig Nobel prizes were awarded on September 12 at a meeting of nerds at Harvard University. The prizes are given for genuine scientific research that “first makes people laugh and then makes…
The recent tobacco tax rise showed the usual entrenched positions of public health advocates and libertarians. Nick|Allen/Flickr

Slurs aside, let’s talk about the ethics of public health measures

Predictable positions followed the recent announcement of an increase in tobacco tax by 12.5% a year for four years. Public health advocates praised the tax, labelling those questioning it as “tobacco…
If you treat smoking as a purely personal choice you’re not giving enough weight to the impact of dying young. stolenscript/Flickr

Fuming with outrage: Nazis, nannies and smoking

A few years ago I saw a poster stuck to the wall of a train station in Copenhagen. The poster was a protest paid for by a prominent Danish musician against new regulations against smoking in public. At…
The increase in medical graduates means there’s not enough internships to allow them to practice. So who is given priority and why? Doctor image from www.shutterstock.com

FactCheck: are international medical graduates given priority over Australian doctors?

“At the moment, we’ve got international graduates who are getting preference over Australian doctors in some states.” - Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton, National Press Club Address…
Plain packaging isn’t really plain - it has warnings not branding. PA/Niall Carson

Industry trumps evidence in tobacco packaging U-turn

The government’s disappointing U-turn over plain packaging of tobacco has dealt a blow to campaigners and shows a government attempting to subvert its own consultation process. The Conservative party’s…
When daily stressors intensify and prevent good quality sleep, they can set off a downward spiral to poor mental health. Shutterstock

Chill out: disturbed sleep plays havoc with your mood and mind

A poll by Lifeline released earlier this week shows almost two-thirds of Australians reported sleep loss because of stress relating to work or their finances. The findings went largely unremarked, even…
Pollution face masks are not just for China. Dave Thompson/PA

Air pollution is not yet a thing of the past

It may seem odd for the European Commission to declare 2013 the “Year of the Air” in order to focus on improving air quality standards. Most would feel air pollution is a problem that has been more or…
A Trans Pacific Partnership meeting hosted by US President Barack Obama with the Sultan of Brunei and prime ministers from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia , Singapore and Vietnam, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on November 20, 2012. AAP Image/Auspic, David Foote

Trans Pacific Partnership puts member countries' health at risk

International trade agreements bring new transnational food companies into countries, along with new food advertising and promotion. This has often led to an increase in unhealthy foods entering the domestic…
There’s a strong financial case to selling Medibank Private, but politics has made privatisation an unpopular choice. AAP/ Joel Carrett

Privatising Medibank: good business hamstrung by bad politics

At first sight it is surprising that neither the government nor the opposition, both seeking budgetary savings, is proposing to sell Medibank Private. When retiring Medibank Private chairman Paul McClintock…
A smart card system could help consumers keep track of their alcohol consumption – and help them drink less. Flickr/Mr Kael

Tap and go: smart cards could change the culture of booze

We all know that too much booze is bad for our health. Alcohol has been linked to 60 different medical conditions and almost 3,500 deaths a year in Australia, mostly from long-term alcohol abuse, accidents…
Many proposed measures for curbing obesity around the work are aimed at restricting the intake sugar from soft drinks. Robert Huffstutter

Another day, another anti-obesity campaign, but will this one work?

Merely two months into the new year and we have already seen a plethora of local and international efforts aimed at curbing what appears to be the inexorable rise of obesity. Some of these initiatives…
There’s a gap between what people with private health insurance think they’re paying for and what they’re getting. mvcaf/Flickr

Private health insurance and the illusion of choice

The number of people with health insurance plummeted in the 1990s, but almost half the Australian population now has private hospital insurance and over half have ancillary or extras cover. But our research…
No-smoking signs may actually prompt smokers to smoke. Mykl Roventine/Flickr

Anti-smoking signs may cause people to reach for cigarettes

In 1863, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear – and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.” According to a recent experiment…
Many Australians are concerned about whether coal seam gas extraction will affect the quality of their water. Jeremy Buckingham MLC

Dealing with the health risks of unconventional gas

Community concerns over unconventional gas (shale and coal seam) mining in Australia are increasing. These concerns relate to water and air pollution, land usage, fugitive emissions and to inadequate assessment…
Urban environments are increasingly bombarding us with unhealthy food choices. John Walker

Rethinking how we live to stop the chronic diseases epidemic

We are in the midst of a global epidemic of chronic diseases – diabetes, heart disease, cancers and respiratory disease are on the rise across the world. Posing a real and increasing threat to health and…
It’s easy to claim “wind turbine syndrome” exists, but where’s the evidence? Snurb

There’s still no evidence that wind farms harm your health

Back in July I wrote an article for the The Conversation arguing that wind turbine syndrome was a classic “communicated” disease: it spreads by being talked about, and is therefore a strong candidate for…
Coal mining in NSW’s Hunter region co-exists with wine growing, racehorse breeding, dairy and other pastoral industries. Jo Schmaltz

Coal industry thriving, but at what social and health cost?

If you believe industry propaganda, coal mining is a panacea not only for economic ills but also for smoothing troubled social waters. But a lack of local evidence about the health impact of the coal industry…
Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg announcing job cuts in his department on September 7, 2012. AAP

Censoring public health in Queensland - a dangerous precedent?

Beyond the recent publicity around cuts to health and other portfolios, something deeply disturbing – even sinister – is occurring in Queensland. The state government is implementing health policies on…
Political responses to obesity have been more about creating a spectacle of “doing something” than solving the problem. Bruce A Stockwell

Why we’re losing the battle of the bulge: the politics of obesity prevention

There’s no doubt that obesity has received considerable political attention over the past decade. But data recently released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows Australians are losing…
Reduced ozone means increased UV radiation, and that leads to skin cancer. Tracey Lawson

Saving the ozone layer saved human lives

SAVING THE OZONE: Part seven in our series exploring on the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer – dubbed “the world’s most successful environmental agreement” – explains how the…
The combination of more access and busier lifestyles has likely contributed to increasing consumption of fast food. Ben Weston

Fast food v councils: the battle for hearts, minds and bellies

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has just finished hearing submissions in a case against McDonald’s opening an outlet in the town of Tecoma. The case is part of a growing trend of…
The High Court has ruled the enforcing plain packaging is constitutionally legal. AAP/Lukas Coch

The Olive Revolution: Australia’s plain packaging leads the world

After much political debate, the Australian Parliament passed the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 (Cth). Australian legislators, such as Richard di Natale, provided moving accounts for the need for plain…
The expense of defending defamation actions deters many public health researchers from speaking out. Emilio Kuffer

Protect researchers from the perils of public health advocacy

Public health advocates who criticise industries for promoting harmful forms of consumption – the alcohol, food, pharmaceutical, tobacco and gambling industries – increasingly find themselves facing legal…
Wind farms have existed in Australia long before the first claims about health ever surfaced. AAP

Wind turbine syndrome: a classic ‘communicated’ disease

At the beginning of this year I started collecting examples of health problems some people were attributing to wind turbine exposure. I had noticed a growing number of such claims on the internet and was…
New Zealand wants to largely be tobacco free by 2025; Finland has set 2040 as its target date. Iago A R

Should we set a date for a tobacco-free Australia?

It’s been 100 years since the first medical textbook identified a link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer. So how strange is it that in 2012 we can walk into Coles and Woolworths and buy cigarettes…
The first public health laws governed sanitation and led to clean piped drinking water. Darren Stueber

Filling the regulatory gap in chronic disease prevention

OBESE NATION: It’s time to admit it - Australia is becoming an obese nation. This series looks at how this has happened and more importantly, what we can do to stop the obesity epidemic. Today, we look…
Australians should be more aware of the health effects of pollution. OZinOH

Why petrol bowsers deserve the same treatment as cigarette packs

Every time smokers pull a cigarette pack out of their pocket, they’re reminded of the harms their habit is likely to cause. In much the same way, Australian petrol stations should display health warnings…
Success would mean parents' evidence-based concerns can be taken forward. The Wu's Photo Land/Flickr

Residents revolt against planned McDonald’s near primary school

Radio National’s Background Briefing this Sunday is about the struggle of residents of a western suburb in Adelaide who are trying to stop a McDonalds restaurant being built within 200 metres of a primary…
Almost everyone can ride to work, and the health benefits are enormous. california cowgirl1

Better health is only a short bike ride away

CYCLING IN AUSTRALIA: More than half of Australia’s population can be classified as overweight and obese. This statistic is alarming but some of the risk factors associated with obesity – such as poor…
Tucking your pants into your socks mightn’t be trendy, but cycling to work has a range of benefits. AAP/Joe Castro

Try cycling on Ride to Work Day … it might change your life

In July, Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the most prestigious race in professional cycling: Le Tour de France. But what effect has Cadel’s victory had back home in Australia? Are more Australians…
Four year-old Ayen Chol died after being attacked by a neighbour’s pit bull cross (AFP PHOTO/William WEST)

Breed blame-game: banning Pit Bulls won’t work

The recent death of four year-old, Ayen Chol from a pit bull attack has again prompted calls to ban the breed. But instead of focusing on a particular breed, or responding to single events as they occur…
Alcohol is currently exempt from the labelling requirements that all other products we eat and drink have to follow. Klearchos Kapoutsis

Cheers to health warning labels for alcoholic drinks

Despite known risks of drinking, health and safety warning labels have been noticeably absent from alcoholic beverages in Australia. But that might be about to change, with the Government today seeking…
The foreskin is the most sensitive part of the penis. Flickr/NoVa Hokie

‘Unethical and harmful’: the case against circumcising baby boys

For centuries, children have been subjected to cultural and medicalised practices that were ultimately proven harmful and a violation of basic bodily integrity. Such practices have included foot binding…
Excessive sitting increases your risk of chronic disease, even if you get enough exercise.

Sitting nine to five (and beyond): the perils of sedentary lifestyles

Whether it’s at work, in cars, watching TV or using the computer, there’s no denying many of us spend the majority of our days sitting. And while science is yet to prove conclusively that too much sitting…
Hookahs are actually more dangerous because users are likely to puff more frequently.

Monday’s medical myth: hookahs are less harmful than cigarettes

After decades of successful anti-tobacco campaigns, we’re all familiar with the risks of smoking. But how do the health harms of cigarettes compare with those of other smoking devices? The hookah, also…
Home help is much more effective than written instructions from a doctor.

Why home help is the best bang for our health buck

The new Victorian Health Plan 2012-22 offers a bleak prognosis: forever rising medical costs, doctors in the wrong places, hospitals overwhelmed. To make matters worse, it claims that patients can’t be…
Guidelines say no TV for under 2s, then no more than two hours a day. Keenen Brown

Square eyes: how much TV is too much for kids?

If you’ve ever sat your toddler down in front of the television to give yourself a few minutes of much-needed rest, you’re certainly not alone. But for many parents, those few minutes of bliss that come…
Is legal action becoming a bad habit for tobacco companies? effb/Flickr

Big Tobacco v Australia: taking the battle to the global stage

This week’s legal action by tobacco giant Philip Morris to overturn the federal government’s plain packaging proposals is not its first attempt to stifle anti-tobacco legislation. Philip Morris is also…
It’s time to begin preparing for the “tertiary effects”. AAP

What will a four-degree climate rise mean for world health?

Public health experts have warned for more than two decades that climate change will harm human health. Initially their attention focused on “primary” health effects (e.g heat waves, bush fires and flooding…
A full English breakfast just doesn’t cut it. Iban

Monday’s medical myth: you can cure a hangover

Piping hot cups of coffee. A fat laden fried breakfast. Going for a run. Or maybe just going back to bed. There are plenty of claims about how you can cure a hangover. So, what’s the reality? If you’ve…
The Cancer Council’s alcohol abstinence message isn’t helpful. flickr/MrTinDC

Ignore the scaremongers – a drink (or two) is alright

The marketing of public health messages can bear some disturbing similarities to the way the tobacco, alcohol and food industries go about promoting their products. Recent suggestions by the Cancer Council…
Science says otherwise. Pink Sherbet Photography

Monday’s medical myth: sugar makes kids hyperactive

Any parent would tell you that seeing children fuelling up on sugar-laden cake, lollies and soft drinks at a birthday party is a sure-fire recipe for a bunch of rampaging hyperactive kids. The connection…
If helmets protect against brain injury, why not wear them?

Don’t be fooled, keeping bike helmets is best for health

Convincing more Australians to get on a bike would undoubtedly deliver health improvements that come with reduced waistlines. But ditching bike helmets isn’t the answer. The health benefits of more cycling…
The life expectancy gained from cycling to work outweighs the risks of ill health from pollution and injury.

Ditching bike helmets laws better for health

With epidemics of diabetes and obesity threatening to bankrupt state health budgets, governments need to broaden their strategies to encourage physical activity. Allowing cyclists to ride without a helmet…

Columnists (1)

Research and News (25)

Growing use of tungsten brings high risk of strokes

High levels of tungsten, a metal found in mobile phones and a variety of industrial uses, could double the risk of stroke…

Boys to receive Gardasil HPV vaccine

Boys are likely be offered subsidised vaccinations against the sexually transmitted, wart and cancer-causing human papillomavirus…

Research Briefs (20)

Tobacco production increases by 300% in India

A report has found that tobacco production has increased by more than 300% in India. It was also found that up to 35% of…

Too few Australians receive appropriate care

Australians only receive “appropriate” healthcare 57% of the time, according to a study published in the Medical Journal…

Improved peanut allergy test

Researchers have developed a new test for peanut allergy diagnosis that could be cheaper and more effective than the current…