06 May, 2015 Last updated: 06 May, 2015

Professor John Catford has been at the frontline of health promotion for the past 30 years since setting up Heartbeat Wales, a pioneering community-based health program which focused on addressing an epidemic of heart attacks.

 Professor Emeritus John CatfordHe believes that now, more than ever, is a time for courage and innovation in health promotion.

What are the global health promotion initiatives you have been involved with? 

I was part of the drafting team that led the development of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion in 1986, the Bangkok Charter in 2005 and the Nairobi Call to Action in 2009. We were helping to create a new concept of health promotion which was different to traditional health education and public health. 

These three major global policy initiatives engaged governments, non-governmental organisations, health organisations and health services to address importance of health promotion and provide the building blocks to take it forward. They have challenged health systems to respond more nimbly and more ably and have changed the nature and forms of public health enormously over the last 30 years.

What aspects of VicHealth's current work are you particularly most excited about? 

I’m very enthusiastic about VicHealth's salt reduction program. We need to reduce salt in manufactured foods, but also raise awareness of the importance of reducing sodium in the diet. I’m also excited about VicHealth's Alcohol Culture Change program. This is a difficult area, particularly with how alcohol is embedded in the Australian psyche and lifestyle. If we can make some impact there, it will be world-leading.

What are the challenges for VicHealth in the next three years? 

We need to turn challenges into opportunities. We need to look at how VicHealth can add value to quite a sophisticated prevention system. I think that's very much at the soul of VicHealth. It was set up as an innovator, a changemaker, reaching out to places where there wasn't any action. We need to continue to be smart, support strategic alliances and make sure we continue to work effectively with the State and Federal Governments. VicHealth also has a role to play nationally in terms of Australia-wide programs and partnerships.

VicHealth was recently designated as a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Leadership in Health Promotion. How will this role benefit our friends and colleagues in the region? 

In addition to sharing Victoria's health promotion successes and expertise with our neighbours in the Western Pacific, there's a real opportunity for knowledge and skills transfer because VicHealth has had a long history of championing emerging and challenging areas such as tobacco control, healthy eating and improving mental wellbeing. 

What do you see as the new frontier for health promotion? 

It is the understanding of how technology is changing people's lives and how it can be harnessed for better health. The broader electronic environments are going to be very important and mastering these will be very interesting and challenging. For example, are people going to socialise face-to-face, or will it be predominantly through the internet? What are the positive and negative aspects to that? 

Technology may not be a major risk factor, but I think there's a place for some very creative work here. And with creativity, comes risk. So we need to be courageous. We won't always get it right but if we don’t take risks, we're not going to achieve our mission to be at the cutting edge of health promotion tackling those things that are hurting the health and wellbeing of Victorians. We need the resolve to maintain our courage, our investment and our commitment to innovate for better health.