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A year of achievement in public, child and youth health

As I kick off another year as Chair of the Public Health and Child & Youth Health Committee, I thought it might be worthwhile reminding readers of this column about some of the important public health activities the AMA has been engaged in over the last 12 months.

Alcohol marketing has been a prominent issue for the AMA and the broader community. Last year the PHCYH Committee oversaw the development of the major research monograph, Alcohol Marketing and Young People – Time for a new policy agenda.

The publication was launched during the National Summit on Alcohol Marketing to Young People, which was held at Parliament House and attended by a range of parliamentarians and representatives from more than 20 health organisations and NGOs.  A joint communiqué was issued following the Summit, calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the issue. 

The AMA followed up the summit by organising a presentation by UK alcohol policy expert Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. In his very informative presentation, held at Parliament House, Sir Ian gave an analysis of alcohol policy reforms in the UK, and what lessons could be drawn from this for Australia.

To help minimise the harm caused by drinking, AMA called for alcohol pricing reform in its submission for the 2013-14 Federal Budget.

The AMA has also been engaged as a key member of the Front of Pack Food Labelling Project Committee, which has been Chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Health  Jane Halton.

The star-based rating approach developed by the Committee ranks foods according to their fat, salt and sugar content, and was adopted by the nation’s health ministers at a meeting last month.

This was a gratifying achievement for the AMA, which has long advocated the need to improve food labelling in order to help consumers understand more about their food choices (including likely effects on body weight).

All going well, this new voluntary food labelling approach will be rolled out next year. In addition, the PHCYH Committee sponsored submissions on revised dietary guidelines and clinical guidelines for the management of overweight and obesity.

The AMA has increased its advocacy around prisoner health.

Last year, the Committee oversaw the revision of the AMA’s Position Statement on Health and the Criminal Justice System.

In August, I launched the Position Statement at the Public Health Association of Australia’s Justice Health Symposium, where it was well received. The new statement incorporates a focus on the importance of appropriate ‘through care’.

Building on a successful policy session on climate change at the 2012 AMA National Conference, the AMA has worked to increase awareness of the health effects of climate change.

A detailed submission was provided to the Senate Committee inquiring into recent trends regarding extreme weather events, and the nation’s preparedness for them.

 In the submission, the AMA called for a national strategy to ensure that health services could be rapidly mobilised during such events. The AMA also made a submission to a Senate inquiry into the implications of air quality for health.

In the submission, the AMA argued that policy and regulatory responses to clean air issues must be strengthened.

Another environmental issue with serious health implications is the development of coal seam gas mining. As outlined in my previous column, it is an issue the AMA will continue to monitor.

Given the topical nature of some of these issues, Committee meetings often involve robust discussions about how the AMA should advance its position.

Committee members have been lucky enough to hear from a number of excellent guest speakers to help inform their deliberations, including Louise Sylvan, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian National Health Prevention Agency; Andrew Cummings, Executive Director of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition; Jules Kim, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Scarlet Alliance; Professor Helen Keleher, a recognised expert in women’s health; and Professor Michael Levy, Director of Justice Health in the ACT.

With the upcoming Federal Election, 2013 is shaping up to be an equally productive year for both the AMA and members of the AMA’s Public Health and Child & Youth Health Committee.

I look forward to informing members on the ongoing productive work of this Committee.

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