November 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the first World Health Organization conference on health promotion held in Ottawa, Canada. The resulting Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion heralded the ‘new public health’ movement, emphasising that health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over and to improve their health.

Ms Fiona McCormack

Chair of the Board, VicHealth

A year after the Ottawa Charter was born, on the other side of the globe, a watershed development took place with the creation of the first health promotion foundation in the world – VicHealth. Its impact was profound – freeing sports and arts from tobacco sponsorships and advertising, reducing the impact of smoking, and leading the charge on promoting good health in Victoria.

These two innovations would change health. Across the world there are now government health promotion strategies and reviews, statutory authorities and foundations, consumer interest groups, professional associations and journals. University departments and professors proudly bear the name, Masters and Bachelor degrees are in abundance and a new textbook seems to appear every few months. Money is increasingly being invested in health promotion programmes by governments and international organisations, like the World Bank, as well as through voluntary contributions from people themselves. It is quite remarkable that this has all happened in just three decades.

Today, VicHealth continues to adopt the holistic view of health endorsed by the Ottawa Charter – ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. This view has enabled it to operate with a firm focus on people and communities, not illnesses, and on the social determinants of good health.

The environment in which VicHealth operates is no less challenging than three decades ago. While smoking rates have halved, pressures on health budgets have increased due to an ageing population, more chronic disease and mental illness, technological advances, and rising levels of obesity, physical inactivity and high-risk drinking.

Obesity is increasing at alarming rates, and it is predicted that three out of four Australian adults and one-third of children will be overweight or obese by 2025. The increase in prevalence is also skewed towards groups facing disadvantage.

Nearly one in three adults, and four out of five children are insufficiently active. More worrying is the finding that more than two-thirds of adult Australian females are classified as being sedentary or having low levels of exercise. Active recreation or sport declines rapidly as women get older.

Overall levels of alcohol consumption in Victoria are relatively stable, however alcohol-related harms including hospitalisations and ambulance attendances have increased significantly in recent years. Most Victorians drink responsibly but a large proportion still drink in a manner that puts them at risk of injury from a single occasion of drinking, or at risk of chronic disease in the longer term.

Smoking prevalence has reduced to 12.6 per cent of adults smoking daily and youth smoking rates have declined to the lowest ever recorded. However, this rate of decline is slowest in groups experiencing disadvantage. Smoking continues to cost the Victorian community $245 million a year in health costs alone – a staggering $6.8 billion when health and social costs are combined.

Mental wellbeing especially in young people is also a critical area to address. One in four young Victorians aged 16 to 25 years are at risk of depression. One in eight have reported a very high intensity of loneliness. Compounding this is their exposure to rapid changes such as globalisation and digital technology. There is an urgent need to strengthen the resilience of young people, and help reduce the burden of mental illness which costs the Victorian economy an estimated $5.4 billion each year.

Across the broad scope of our work, we are guided by a singular vision: one million more Victorians with better health and wellbeing by 2023.

Our 10-year Action Agenda for Health Promotion provides the foundation and framework to achieve this vision, through its five strategic imperatives: promoting healthy eating, encouraging regular physical activity, preventing tobacco use, preventing harm from alcohol and improving mental wellbeing.

As the VicHealth Board, we couldn’t be more proud to report, three years into the agenda, VicHealth has made marked progress.

We have partnered across sectors to fund and implement innovative, measurable solutions, targeting the places where health is formed and experienced.

We have contributed new knowledge and evidence, and promoted its use in program planning and management – ‘pushing’ issues such as preventing violence against women to the fore in public policy and action.

We have engaged communities and stakeholder organisations, building trust and a shared purpose through initiatives like the Citizens’ Jury on Obesity, which brought together Australian’s largest people’s jury. The way that VicHealth involved the general public in the decision-making process through the Citizens’ Jury was recognised with an award from IAP2, the International Association for Public Participation.

A major piece of work has been to refresh VicHealth’s Action Agenda for Health Promotion for the next three-year period 2016–19. The new plan will help current and future generations of Victorians travel to ‘destination wellbeing’ by creating healthier choices and healthier environments for families, workplaces, schools, sports, arts, and on-the-ground as well as online communities.

In going forward, VicHealth’s deep involvement in gender equality will make us well-placed to address the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Our years of experience in helping to address social determinants of health at a community level will also enable us to respond to the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry recommendations.

On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank The Hon. Jill Hennessy MP for her support and leadership this year, and the The Hon. Martin Foley MP, The Hon. John Eren MP, The Hon. Fiona Richardson MP, other Ministers and their Advisers, Members of the Victorian Parliament, and other government agencies for their continued support.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our past Chair Emeritus Professor John Catford for his immeasurable contribution during his last two years as Chair and two years as Deputy Chair, including his leadership through the recent update of the Action Agenda for Health Promotion. I also thank Jerril Rechter, our CEO, for being a constant source of energy, inspiration and integrity. I would like to congratulate her on winning the 2015 Telstra Victoria Business Woman of the Year Award in the Government and Academia category, being finalist in the same category for the national awards, and included in 2016 Australian Financial Review & Westpac 100 Women of Influence.

VicHealth’s achievements this year, and every year, built upon the combined achievements of 30 years of contributors and partners. With every year, we gain further knowledge, insight and networks that enable us to improve the health and wellbeing of Victorians.

As such, the value of our partners, advocates and supporters can’t be overstated. I am confident that with your support and with the skills and experience of the VicHealth team, we can achieve our vision.

With this said, it is my great pleasure to present these highlights of our achievements for 2015–16. 

Back to VicHealth Highlights 2015-16