06 May, 2015 Last updated: 06 Jan, 2016

Our cover story in this VicHealth Letter features our Innovation Challenges which fund novel initiatives that have great potential to achieve health and wellbeing outcomes.

VicHealth Letter Issue 41

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Professor Emeritus John Catford

Message from the Chair

Professor Emeritus John Catford
Chair of the Board

Most change is incremental but sometimes we need a bold shift; a confident change in direction.

Victoria and Australia are home to health issues that are affecting not some, but most Australians at scale and with escalating intensity. Only evidence-based innovation will achieve the kinds of change we need to reverse negative trends and improve aggregate health and wellbeing.

Healthier people mean stronger communities, productive workplaces and a growing economy. We need to act.

VicHealth is adopting new models of innovation to drive change: from addressing a risky drinking culture to getting people moving, we are determined to discover new ways to improve health and wellbeing for all Victorians.

Behind every VicHealth program, project or initiative are partnerships between academic, government, nongovernment, community and corporate sectors who share a similar vision for a healthier Victoria. They are connecting knowledge, networks and resources through collaboration with the input of innovators, digital disruptors, entrepreneurs and changemakers. Our programmes are all working at the vanguard of global health promotion.

This innovation culture has evolved and thrived since VicHealth’s inception in 1987. One of our early pioneers was acclaimed scientist and leading thinker, Dr Nigel Gray AO. As Director of the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria (now Cancer Council Victoria) from 1968 until 1995, Dr Gray was relentless in his commitment to reducing tobacco smoking. After 20 years of research into the harmful effects of smoking, he built alliances on both sides of politics and rallied media to support tobacco reform.

At the time, many deemed it impossible to rid sports and the arts of tobacco sponsorship. Not today.

Dr Gray passed away late last year and his absence was immediately and profoundly felt. However, his legacy inspired the ongoing work of VicHealth and the major innovation programs we have underway this year are testament to the leadership and energy he brought to our work. On behalf of VicHealth and the Board I wish to pay tribute to his enduring legacy of pursuing big ideas and encouraging partners to bring them to life.


Jerril Rechter

CEO's foreword

Jerril Rechter
Chief Executive Officer

Innovation is the engine of progress.

Sometimes opportunities to innovate are obvious but, often, we need to explore the setting, gather intelligence, and work hard to develop new methods and achieve positive change.

VicHealth has a broad mandate to find leading thinkers, develop new approaches and test them in practice, and build evidence. We’re partnering with organisations that share our determination to tackle the great health challenges of our time. And we’re also inviting entrepreneurial, socially motivated Victorians to join us.

In 2014 we launched a series of VicHealth Innovation Challenges which directs seed funding to initiatives that have great potential to achieve outcomes across our focus areas to: promote healthy eating, encourage regular physical activity, improve mental wellbeing and prevent harm from alcohol. It has been inspiring to see the submitted projects and meet the smart and creative people behind them. More broadly it reaffirms that Victoria is home to an innovative community with tremendous potential to achieve better health and wellbeing.

In our cover story from this edition, learn how start-up funding can help turn smart ideas into healthier communities.

With significant and complex challenges before us, standing still isn’t an option. This 41st edition of the VicHealth Letter outlines the evidence-based innovation and creative health promotion activities VicHealth is pursuing right now, not only in Australia but in the Western Pacific Region.

In this publication, we reveal the details of our latest initiatives to address two major yet largely invisible challenges, sugar and salt. Victorians consume too much sugar, particularly through soft drinks; similarly we consume too much salt, which is particularly high in processed foods. Efforts to switch to drinking water with VicHealth’s H30 Challenge will reap significant health benefits.

Through our Leading Thinkers initiative, we are excited about two important pieces of work.

The first is a series of trial interventions where we work with our partner organisations to build an evidence base to support the behavioural insights approach. The second will
be a public deliberative forum on obesity later this year.

At VicHealth we are serious about innovation. It’s in our DNA. Late last year we lost a lifelong innovator and a pioneer of health promotion: Dr Nigel Gray AO, who was instrumental in the establishment of VicHealth and a lifelong VicHealth Patron. He was a driving force behind globally recognised health promotion initiatives, most notably the reduction of tobacco smoking. This was no mean feat; it was a major battle in the face of adversity and opposition from tobacco companies. However, Dr Gray persevered and today, nearly 30 years later, preventing tobacco use remains a key focus of VicHealth.

Nigel has always been a great supporter of VicHealth’s vision, and a wonderful mentor to me personally. He will be remembered well by all of us. As you read through the
following articles, be inspired; and if you have an idea, be brave and take the Innovation Challenge.


Latest news

Thousands got moving and active in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Thousands flock to dance extravaganza

VicHealth was excited to get behind White Night Melbourne for the second year with the hugely popular I Could Have Danced All Night 12-hour dance marathon on 21 February 2015.

The VicHealth-funded event got up to half a million people of all ages and abilities active through dance to promote people's physical and mental wellbeing. Hundreds and thousands of Victorians were guided by Ausdance Victoria and their professional dancers through a range of dance styles from 7pm to 7am.

Community groups from across Melbourne also performed on stage including a group of senior citizens, people with disabilities, a group of newly-arrived migrants and refugees and a group of international students.

I Could Have Danced All Night is part VicHealth's Active Arts Strategy to get more Victorians moving and provide as many opportunities as possible to get people active.

Read VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter's opinion piece about the power of dance on health

Father picking his son up from school

Our Walk to School champions

Walking to school has never been so popular with VicHealth's Walk to School campaign, breaking multiple records for the number of walks completed and schools taking part during October 2014.

A total of 78,628 primary school students from 499 schools took part across the state – more than double the number of students who took part in 2013 – racking up more than 1.2 million walks.

The Walk to School campaign inspires Victorian primary school students to walk, scoot, ride or roll to and from school every school day in October.

One winner and runner-up were selected in each of the four Victorian education regions based on the school’s overall participation rate, and each school receives a special award.

View the Walk to School winner and runner-up for each region in 2014

Girl drinking from a water fountain

Increasing access to water

Earlier this year, as a part of VicHealth's Water Initiative (an integrated program with the goal of getting more Victorians to choose water instead of drinks with added sugar), VicHealth rolled out water fountains with a new design, which includes a bottle refill functionality, around the City of Melbourne.

VicHealth will test whether including a bottle refill functionality on fountains, and the location of fountains, increases access and use. This research will then be used to provide best-practice guidelines. With nearly two-thirds of Victorians currently overweight or obese, reducing intake of sugar through drinks is one way to promote a healthier diet and improved health.

Find out more about VicHealth's water initiative

Two girls playing soccer

Active Club Grants a huge success

Hundreds of sports and active recreation clubs across Victoria will benefit from the first round of VicHealth’s 2014–15 Active Club Grants program. Round one of the grants has awarded more than $650,000 worth of grants to 270 successful clubs to tackle two major barriers that prevent people from taking part in sport and active recreation – cost and injury. 

The grants, of up to $3,000 each, aim to make clubs safer and more accessible by funding essential equipment and items to prevent or manage injuries.

To create greater opportunities for clubs to access Active Club Grants, VicHealth is running two rounds of funding this year. The second round has now closed and grant recipients will be notified in April 2015. 

Watch out for future Active Club Grants

David Halpern

Behavioural Insights Team update

There are some exciting developments through VicHealth's Leading Thinkers initiative with two important pieces of work underway.

The first is a series of trial interventions where we work with our partner organisations to build an evidence base to support the behavioural insights approach. Several trials are underway in Victoria, including the effectiveness of price increases in vending machines and getting people in the workplace to use the stairs instead of the lifts and standing
more in meetings. 

We believe that small incremental changes like these can make a difference to overall health.

Stay tuned for updates