Monday, 10 November 2014

Dr Darshini Ayton writes about her travel grant success

Dr Darshini Ayton attended the Public Health Association of Australia Conference Perth on September 15-17th 2014. Have a read of her experience below. 

By Dr Darshini Ayton.

The 43rd Public Health Association of Australia Conference was held in Perth in September 2014. This conference brings together researchers and practitioners working in public health and health promotion. It was a great opportunity to live and breathe public health for three days with other public health enthusiasts. The theme of the conference was ‘The future of public health: big challenges, big opportunities’.
 
I was fortunate to be able to present on research conducted by the Falls and Bone Health Team reviewing the implementability and quality of falls prevention guidelines. Through this presentation I was able to connect with other falls prevention researchers and have since joined the injury prevention special interest group of the Public Health Association of Australia. I also displayed a poster of my PhD findings and had a number of interesting conversations with other researchers and practitioners working in the area of settings based health promotion.

I felt a key theme from a number of speakers at the conference was around the need of increasing advocacy in public health. Associate Professor David Jernigan from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health gave the Basil Hetzel Oration and highlighted the significant influence large multinational corporations had on shaping the environment in which people make health decisions and the need for public health to understand these organisations. He proceeded to explain how these organisations, for example alcohol companies, operate to influence the debates around their products and why we need to know this in terms of public health advocacy. He went through the 10 principles outlined in the book ‘Lethal but Legal – Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health’ by Nicholas Freudenberg.

1. Make disease promoting products ubiquitous

2. Encourage retailers to promote their products

3. Supersize products

4. Target marketing to vulnerable populations

5. Price unhealthy products to promote sale and use

6. Create monopolies that reduce bargaining power of consumers and government

7. Support candidates who oppose public health policies

8. Lobby against laws that protect public health

9. Threaten to take jobs out of communities that oppose their policies

10. Organise Astroturf groups to oppose public health policies.

The conference also provided a platform to farewell Professor Simon Chapman, a tobacco control advocate and researcher who is retiring from the School of Public Health, University of Sydney. He gave a talk titled ‘Reflections on a 38 year career in public health advocacy: 10 pieces of advice to early career researchers and advocates’.

1. Always respect evidence and if the evidence changes, so should you – evidence evolves and therefore we need to evolve.

2. Be clear and concrete about what you want to change or support – what precisely needs to happen to reach the broad health goals?

3. Advice from the oracle – disseminate research findings to the public and policy makers. Politicians do not read research journals!

4. Study the news media – TV sound bites 7.2 seconds, Newspapers 1-2 sentences. Be accessible – leave your phone on so journalists can contact you.

5. Collect and megaphone ‘killer facts’ – employ powerful and repeatable analogies. Examples:

a. Public Health is about saving lives a million at a time.

b. The US has 13.5 times Australia’s population, 5.9 times Australia’s rate per 100 gun ownership and 305 times Australia’s gun homicide rate. So more guns make a country safer?

c. In the 18 years before Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia. There have been precisely none in the 18 years since.

6. Values are everything – e.g reduce early death and suffering, inequitable distribution of disease and access to health services. Values make your facts resonate with people.

7. Experts are fine, but they are ‘not a living thing’ – people who live with diseases that we are trying to prevent appear more in news coverage than experts. Ordinary people can make amazing advocates – they bring a compelling authenticity to every issue.

8. Use social media. A lot! Tweet about your publications to increase downloads

9. Successful advocacy takes time

10. Grow rhinoceros hide – as soon as you start becoming an advocate – you will be attacked.

Link to keynote talks: http://webcast.gigtv.com.au/Mediasite/Catalog/catalogs/phaa-annual-2014

There was also an interesting sessions of a panel of journal editors exploring the future of publishing in the modern era where journal impact factors, challenges of peer review and the impact of pay to publish on the careers of young researchers were discussed. I also attended a number of sessions which provided valuable case studies for teaching materials.
The other highlight of the conference was the ‘tweeting’ environment. Over the two days the conference hashtag #PHAA2014 trended at the number one spot in Australia. It was great to make connections with public health researchers and practitioners over twitter and to see public health become ‘cool’ in the twittersphere. 

Overall the conference was a great experience and I thank the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine for supporting my attendance.

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