Public Health Expert

Longer-term harm from Covid-19 in children: The evidence suggests greater efforts are needed to protect children in Aotearoa NZ from infection - Public Health Expert

Mar 09, 2022

Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, Dr Anna Brooks, Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Julie Bennett, Dr Jennifer Summers, Carmen Timu-Parata, Dr Cervantée Wild, Belinda Tuari-Toma, Constanza Jackson, Prof Michael Baker* Longer-term (or ‘post-acute effects’) of Covid-19 in children (including multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children [MIS-C] and long Covid) are well-described. But there is a lack of robust evidence about the prevalence of these conditions. In this blog we summarise findings from a rapid review of the evidence. These findings indicate to us the need for a precautionary approach in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) with greater efforts to prevent children from being infected during the current Omicron outbreak. Protections for children could include improvements to ventilation, mask use, and vaccine equity, and a lower threshold for closing schools and early childhood facilities with greater support for temporary home learning when community transmission is high. Read More

Daily nicotine use increases among youth in Aotearoa NZ: The 2021 Snapshot Y10 Survey - Public Health Expert

Mar 08, 2022

Janet Hoek, Jude Ball, Lindsay Robertson, Philip Gendall, Nick Wilson, Richard Edwards, Andrew Waa* Recently, ASH New Zealand released findings from the 2021 Snapshot Year 10 survey, a large cross-sectional survey of young people aged 14-15. The survey provides important information on vaping and smoking among an age group where dependence on nicotine may develop, and the findings enable researchers and policy makers to assess the impact of different policies.  While the survey report reveals declining daily smoking, it also shows increasing vaping, particularly among Māori. We explain why rising vaping prevalence should be of concern and may warrant additional regulatory measures.   The Year 10 Snapshot survey began 30 years ago and has been conducted annually for more than 20 years (apart from 2020, when COVID-19 prevented data collection). Each year, between 20,000 and 30,000 Year 10 students … Read More

Ventilation in NZ schools during the Omicron wave – results from a preliminary study - Public Health Expert

Feb 28, 2022

Dr Julie Bennett, Dr Tim Chambers and Dr Caroline Shorter* Ventilation is a key and relatively underutilised public health measure that can reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Last year we outlined the need for adequate ventilation in schools and highlighted the need for nationwide ventilation surveillance. In this blog we provide an overview of the results of carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring carried out in a variety of schools at the start of the Omicron wave. These results highlight that excessive levels of CO2 can build up in classrooms – and that this can be prevented by window opening.  Introduction Schools are a primary setting for Covid-19 transmission. At 25 February 2022, more than 717 schools and early childhood education centres across Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) were dealing with active cases. Since August 2021, people under the age of … Read More

Aotearoa New Zealand’s unhealthy food environment needs more policy action - Public Health Expert

Feb 28, 2022

Dr Sally Mackay, Dr Kelly Garton, Dr Sarah Gerritsen* A new report reveals the troubling state of New Zealand’s food environment due to inaction from successive Governments and calls for this to change. Food environments influence the food we buy and eat, so are a key intervention area for improving population nutrition and diet-related health conditions. Food policies can improve food environments by making healthier foods and drinks more available, affordable, accessible and widely promoted, so have the potential to address inequities in health. INFORMAS (the International Network for Food and Obesity/non-communicable diseases Research, Monitoring and Action Support), based at the University of Auckland, has been monitoring NZ’s food environments since 2014. Our first comprehensive assessment from 2014 to 20171 concluded that the food environment in NZ is largely unhealthy. Since then, there have been a few government and … Read More

Strengthening Omicron mitigation strategies in Early Childhood Education settings - Public Health Expert

Feb 24, 2022

Julie Bennett, Philippa Anderson, Sarah Donovan, Amanda Kvalsvig, Alison Leversha, Subhadra Rajanaidu, and Jin Russell* Aotearoa New Zealand is in a major Omicron outbreak. With Covid-19 cases doubling every few days, what opportunities are there to strengthen the mitigation approaches in early education settings? In this blog we discuss what is needed to protect this group of children and their whānau as we navigate the next phases of the Covid-19 outbreak. There remains substantial scope for further risk reduction measures, especially relating to improving ventilation, increasing outdoor activities and appropriate mask use. Covid-19 infection in young children In general, young children experience less severe illness from Covid-19 compared to older age groups, with data suggesting that infection with the Omicron variant is less severe than Delta. However, there are rare cases of serious illness. Children aged 0-4 years have the … Read More

Mortality declines in Aotearoa NZ during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic - Public Health Expert

Feb 23, 2022

Dr Jennifer Summers, Professor Michael Baker, Professor Nick Wilson* In this blog we review the impact of Aotearoa NZ’s Covid-19 response strategies on mortality patterns during the first 2 years of the pandemic. We find that NZ experienced an increase in life expectancy, decreased winter mortality, and net decline in (excess) mortality. These impacts are far more positive than experienced by all other high-income countries during this pandemic period. This picture supports the cautious elimination and suppression strategies used for the first 2 years of the pandemic and there has also been time to prepare the country for the current Omicron wave.     Over the last two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, NZ has used a range of public health measures that have played a direct role in keeping mortality from Covid-19 relatively low compared to … Read More

Promoting physical activity through the prescription of smartphone apps in primary care: Likely to produce health gains and cost-savings - Public Health Expert

Feb 22, 2022

Dr Leah Grout, Kendra Telfer, Dr Cristina Cleghorn, Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Anja Mizdrak* Over 40% of NZ adults are insufficiently physically active. In this blog we summarise our recently published modelling work that suggests that the prescription of smartphone apps for physical activity promotion in primary care could benefit health and save millions in health sector costs for NZ. Nevertheless, this type of intervention should ideally occur in conjunction with societal-wide shifts that support more walking and cycling, as these are likely to generate much larger health gains and cost-savings. Introduction Inadequate physical activity is a risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD), diabetes, stroke, and some of cancers [1, 2]. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults aged 18-64 years should complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or at least 75 minutes … Read More

COVID-19 hospitalisation peaks in Australian States since Omicron emerged: potential relevance to Aotearoa NZ - Public Health Expert

Feb 04, 2022

Dr Jennifer Summers, Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Michael Baker* In this blog we examine the hospitalisation and ICU burden from the recent waves of COVID-19 in Australia, dominated by the Omicron variant. The peak in hospitalisations in Australia during the months of December 2021 and January 2022 occurred on 19 January with 5,302 people in hospital. ICU numbers also peaked on the 19 January at 424 people. Applying the Australian experience to NZ on a per capita basis would suggest peaks of 1,107 people in NZ hospitals and 90 people in ICUs. We also discuss the value and limitations of using the Australian experience to inform planning for the developing NZ Omicron wave. Australia is in the middle of a COVID-19 wave, predominantly fuelled by the new Omicron variant. Omicron was first detected in Australia on the 28 … Read More

Protecting New Zealand children from the developing Omicron outbreak - Public Health Expert

Jan 25, 2022

Amanda Kvalsvig, Nick Wilson, Carmen Timu-Parata, Belinda Tuari-Toma, Jennifer Summers, Cheryl Davies, Constanza Jackson, Julie Bennett, and Michael G. Baker* Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) is likely to soon be experiencing widespread community transmission caused by the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In this blog we outline what is needed to protect the health and wellbeing of children (ie, those under 18 years) in this outbreak. Key principles include taking a whānau-centred, not a school system-centred approach; actively addressing inequities in risk and impact; and taking a precautionary approach to potential long-term harms. Māori leadership at policy and community level will be needed to ensure that children will be safe in all settings during an Omicron outbreak. Lessons for NZ from the global experience of Omicron The Omicron variant needs to be taken seriously as a public health threat because … Read More

Potential Impact of an Omicron Outbreak: A Look at the IHME Modelling for NZ - Public Health Expert

Jan 21, 2022

Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Jennifer Summers, Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, Prof Michael Baker* In this blog we summarise the results of modelling for an Omicron variant outbreak of Covid-19 in NZ by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation. This work suggests that in an outbreak that begins in January, the number of cases in hospital might peak at 2,790 (95%CI: 120 to 9,070) in early March 2022. Cumulative additional deaths might be 400 by 1 May, near the end of the outbreak (peaking at 10 deaths per day [95%CI: 0 to 50]). While there are various limitations and uncertainties with all such modelling, our impression is that this work is of high quality and should be considered by NZ policy-makers. But other factors, such as the social and economic disruption from such an Omicron outbreak, should also be important considerations … Read More