Public Health Expert

Professor Tony Blakely is an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, Wellington. He has an extensive portfolio of research. Tony initiated and implemented the New Zealand Census-Mortality Study (NZCMS) in the late 1990s, a pioneering study linking the national censuses with mortality data to allow monitoring and research on ethnic and socio-economic inequalities and the contribution of smoking to mortality (the NZ census periodically includes smoking). He has also led the parallel study, CancerTrends, that links census and cancer registration data to allow cancer incidence and survival studies.

Tobacco tax increases: new model measures impact - Public Health Expert

May 30, 2016

By Frederieke Sanne van der Deen, Nick Wilson, Tony Blakely On Thursday the NZ Government announced it would continue it’s programme of yearly 10% tobacco tax increases for the years 2017 to 2020 inclusive. Using our peer-reviewed BODE3 forecasting model, we project that with these additional four years of tax increases smoking prevalence in 2020 will be 21.4% for Māori and to 8.9% for non-Māori – compared to a projected 22.7% and 9.3% if this taxation programme had not continued beyond January 2016. Prevalence reductions may be greater if we hit a ‘tipping point’ – our modelling necessarily uses responsiveness to tax seen in the past. Thus the further tax increases will help us get to a tobacco-free NZ by 2025, but more ‘endgame’ strategies are almost certainly also needed. Tobacco tax is the single most effective tool used by … Read More

Data Explorer Tool: 30 years of NZ mortality and cancer data - Public Health Expert

May 25, 2016

Dr George Disney, Dr Andrea Teng, Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Tony Blakely There are striking inequalities in cancer incidence and mortality in NZ, by both ethnicity and socioeconomic status. In this blog, we introduce an interactive online tool that enables anyone from researchers, policy-makers, journalists and health practitioners to access high quality data on these vital, population-level health statistics. Examples we use include: massive declines in cardiovascular disease inequality, but still large inequalities such as widening gaps in mortality for diseases consistent with the obesity epidemic; and the fact that adults aged 25-44 years with no formal qualifications have had very little mortality decline in the last 30 years, begging the question “Why?”. Striking inequalities in health in NZ In this country there are striking inequalities by ethnicity – for example, Māori life expectancy is 7 years less than … Read More

Worth its weight: Building Insulation in New Zealand - Public Health Expert

May 23, 2016

Dr Kimberley O’Sullivan   Building insulation provides comfort and health benefits to occupants, saves energy, enhances energy security, and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This blog looks at these issues and wonders why the NZ Government is not doing more to enhance building performance and insulation standards when it is such a good investment. The recently proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act suggest that the NZ Government is still undervaluing the benefits of building performance and insulation standards. This is despite benefits from insulation that include providing comfort, protecting health, saving energy, enhancing energy security, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Minister of Building and Housing is arguing against improving building performance. He suggests that the health benefits of improving insulation in rental housing from 1978 standards to meet current 2008 standards for new … Read More

Progress on reducing retail availability of sugary drinks in NZ - Public Health Expert

May 16, 2016

Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Cristina Cleghorn, Dr Andrea Teng, Dr Rob Beaglehole, Prof Tony Blakely New Zealand has made some progress in removing the sale of sugary drinks from hospitals and schools. In this blog we look at such successes to date and consider what could be done to further reduce availability of these products which are both harming oral health and fuelling the obesity epidemic. There are good arguments and some evidence suggesting that NZ should follow Mexico, the UK and other countries in adopting taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs*), as per these past blogs (UK, Mexico, Mexico and Pacific, Open letter to Cabinet Ministers for sugary drinks tax). A comprehensive approach to preventing obesity and protecting oral health would go much further. One part of such an approach would be to reduce the retail … Read More

Unethical junk food marketing: Upgrading the advertising codes - Public Health Expert

Apr 28, 2016

by Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere, Alanna Soupen, University of Auckland Kiwis want tougher restrictions on junk food marketing to children. A Horizon Research poll conducted last year found 41% of Kiwi’s were strongly in favour of greater restrictions to reduce the advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks to children, and 32% “somewhat” in favour. About 6000 “ActionStation” members called on the NZ Government to put enforceable restrictions in place on junk food marketing to children. In addition, there is strong international support to reduce exposure of children to unhealthy food marketing, for example as expressed in the final report of the World Health Organization Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (3), chaired by NZ’s Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister. But the Government refused to put any restrictions in place…..They decided to leave … Read More

Low-cost heart-healthy bread for NZ - Public Health Expert

Apr 26, 2016

Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Nhung Nghiem, Dr Cristina Cleghorn, Dr Nisha Nair, Prof Tony Blakely Researchers report on the optimisation of the design of bread for heart health, a study published recently in BMC Nutrition. Using linear programming we found it possible to design breads that are nutritionally superior to commercially available breads in 15 countries from a heart health perspective, as well as being lower cost. Such bread designs could be promoted by health agencies and utilised in conjunction with a government-funded bread voucher system for those at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Why study bread as a health issue? The global burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) accounts for around two of every three deaths worldwide in 2010 (1). Furthermore, a global estimate for 2013 indicated the high burdens of years lived with disability from: … Read More

(Un)licensed to kill: do we need to regulate how tobacco is sold? - Public Health Expert

Apr 21, 2016

By Lindsay Robertson, Janet Hoek, Richard Edwards and Louise Marsh* Two recent articles by Aspire2025 researchers have explored how tobacco sales in New Zealand could be more effectively regulated. The first examines licensing models that have been implemented overseas, while the second explores how provisions from the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 could inform tobacco supply policies (both published in the NZ Medical Journal, 1 April 2016). This blog overviews the findings in both articles and explains how stronger tobacco supply policies would contribute to the Government’s smokefree 2025 goal.   It may come as a surprise that a product as deadly and addictive as tobacco, which causes death on a scale unprecedented for a consumer product, can be sold anywhere in New Zealand and by anyone. Currently, tobacco is available at up to 8,000 retail outlets (1) throughout NZ, though … Read More

Who is responsible for stopping NZ’s obesity epidemic? - Public Health Expert

Apr 18, 2016

Dr Robyn Toomath Editorial note: In this blog-perspective, obesity expert Dr Robyn Toomath outlines the dogmas and arguments for the ‘individual-responsibility’ explanation and (lack of) solution to the obesity epidemic. She then points to the market failures that render (non-regulated) free-market solutions as doomed to fail. The views in this blog are expanded in greater depth in a book Dr Toomath is launching in Auckland and Wellington this month, Fat Science (Auckland University Press). If you stop and ask people on the street, nine out of ten (including the overweight ones) will say that you get fat from over-eating and its no-one’s fault but your own. This is not just due to imperfect understanding of geno-environmental interactions, but because the notions of autonomy and self-control are deeply held (1). So when nihilistic biologists such as myself suggest there is no … Read More

An open letter to Cabinet Ministers from 74 health professors calling for a sugary drinks tax - Public Health Expert

Apr 02, 2016

An open letter to Cabinet Ministers from 74 health professors calling for a sugary drinks tax In this Public Health Expert blog, we reproduce a letter that appeared in the NZ Herald on 2 April.  Boyd Swinburn, Rod Jackson, and Cliona Ni Mhurchu led the writing.    Dear Cabinet Ministers We are very concerned by New Zealand’s appallingly high rate of childhood obesity, the fourth highest in the world.  In addition, every year more than 5000 children under 8 years old require general anaesthetic operations to remove rotten teeth.[1] We applaud the government for making childhood obesity a national health priority, however, its action plan of 22 ‘soft’ strategies, which was launched last year with no extra funding, is not sufficient to change current trends. We urge you to implement a significant tax on sugary … Read More

Engaging online simulator of measles outbreaks (& how NZ needs to do better in eliminating measles) - Public Health Expert

Mar 30, 2016

Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Osman Mansoor, Prof Michael Baker To help explain the concept of ‘herd immunity’, The Guardian Newspaper has produced a clever online simulator of measles spread. We comment on why this simulator is informative and how it also demonstrates chance effects in the spread of infectious diseases. Then we take the opportunity to explain why NZ should be doing more to wipe out diseases like measles. Source: The Guardian – Check out this very clever simulator from The Guardian US Interactive Team. Press the “run simulation again” button a few times and see how the communities with relatively high vaccine coverage will tend to avoid outbreaks – the incoming infected case (a flying red dot) will not trigger other cases. You can even see that sometimes a community with 80% coverage will … Read More