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.

The UK Government Shows Leadership with a Soft Drink Tax Announcement - Public Health Expert

Mar 22, 2016

Dr Wilma Waterlander, Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Cliona Ni Mhurchu, Dr Cristina Cleghorn, Dr Andrea McDonald, Dr Helen Eyles, Prof Tony Blakely A Conservative UK Government has announced a new soft drink tax with revenue recycling towards school-based physical activity programmes. In this blog, we briefly look at the UK initiative and assess its possible utility for changing New Zealand’s obesogenic environment. NZ adults consume approximately 29 teaspoons of sugar per day, and children consume approximately 25 teaspoons (1). Beverages are the highest contributor to total sugars intake for Kiwi kids and the second highest contributor for adults, and it is clear that Kiwis far exceed the World Health Organization free sugars target of less than 10% of daily energy (about 12 teaspoons of sugar). Furthermore, NZ has the third highest rate of obesity in the OECD and … Read More

NZ’s Smart Use of Big Data: Employment & Income Impacts of Selected Health Conditions - Public Health Expert

Mar 14, 2016

Prof Nick Wilson, Dr George Disney, Prof Tony Blakely New Zealand is making rapid strides in the smart use of big data to provide better health information for decision-makers. Here we look at a recent output: a Treasury Working Paper that considers the employment and income effects of eight health conditions. Such information could ultimately inform the best use of resources for disease prevention and treatment interventions from a societal perspective. In December last year the Treasury published a Working Paper by one of their staff, Sylvia Dixon (1). The study examined the impact of health conditions on the employment rates and incomes of working-aged New Zealanders (aged 20-59 years) who develop them. The study considered adults who were in wage or salaried employment at the time they were first diagnosed with the condition, and then survived for … Read More

New Zealand Can Lead the World in Tobacco Control: Plain Packaging 2.0 - Public Health Expert

Mar 10, 2016

Janet Hoek, Co-Director, ASPIRE2025 and Professor of Marketing and Philip Gendall, ASPIRE2025 and Emeritus Professor of Marketing The Prime Minister’s decision to progress plain packaging legislation “sooner rather than later” is an important step towards our smokefree 2025 goal. There are four key areas for improving on Australia’s legislation to maximise the effectiveness of plain packaging: preventing the proliferation of brand variant names; improving the pictorial warning labels so these resonate more effectively with smokers; introducing dissuasive cigarette sticks and rolling papers, and foregrounding Quitline information and supportive cessation messages on packages. We welcome the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that the government intends to progress plain packaging legislation sooner rather than later. New Zealand will now join the many other countries implementing this proportionate and evidence-based policy, and benefit from the declines in smoking prevalence to which plain packaging … Read More

The Island Bay Cycleway – Terribly Important and Nothing New - Public Health Expert

Mar 07, 2016

Professor Alistair Woodward* This is a sensible move to make the city safer and more attractive for carbon-sparing, health-promoting bicycling, according to some. Unnecessary and disruptive and not wanted by most people, argue others. The debate over the Island Bay cycleway is important because the way we build our streets shapes how we live, and consequently determines the health and well-being of populations. But it is nothing new. The Island Bay story has unfolded previously in other places. In essence, this is a debate about the best use of a limited common resource. In Wellington and in many other cities the status quo is being challenged. The fundamental question is: how does the public road accommodate change?   What a mundane, boring story, you might think. Dedicated lanes for cyclists are being installed along The Parade in Island Bay, … Read More

Tax Reform Pros & Cons: A Brief Look from a Public Health Perspective - Public Health Expert

Feb 09, 2016

Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Caroline Shaw, Dr Nhung Nghiem, Prof Tony Blakely, A/Prof Ralph Chapman Tax policies have major impacts on society and designing such policies is complex. But if the perspective is around gaining health and saving costs for the public health system, then certain tax reforms may be favoured more than others. In this blog we take a brief look at what potential there is for revising the NZ tax system from a public health perspective. Many factors determine the design of tax policies in developed countries. These include perspectives concerning the level of government spending, how important goals such as health, well-being or the state of the environment really are, the extent to which the system should be redistributive (i.e., with the wealthiest people who can afford it paying relatively more tax), and administrative costs. Read More

Taxing sugary drinks: Empirical findings out of Mexico - Public Health Expert

Feb 04, 2016

Dr Andrea McDonald, Dr Cristina Cleghorn, Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Tony Blakely Last month the British Medical Journal published a study on the highly anticipated purchasing data examining the impact of taxing sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) in Mexico (1). This study reported that the 10% tax on SSBs was associated with an overall 12% reduction in purchases and a 4% increase in purchases of untaxed beverages one year after implementation. In this blog we examine this latest study, how it fits in with existing evidence, and how these results might apply to improving the control of obesity and improving child oral health in New Zealand. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ From 1 January 2014, Mexico implemented an excise tax of 1 peso per litre on sugar sweetened beverages. This newly published study (1) reports that a 10% tax on SSBs was associated … Read More

The Trans Pacific Partnership Treaty and tobacco: no cause to celebrate - Public Health Expert

Dec 21, 2015

Louise Delany, Senior Lecturer, Assoc Prof George Thomson* In this blog we ask what the tobacco ‘carve out’ from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Treaty means for public health. Despite the partial exemption of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), the TPP agreement as a whole applies to tobacco, and breaches of the TPP might, in principle, be alleged in relation to tobacco. The TPP provides mechanisms to pursue complaints for breaches of its obligations in addition to ISDS. These other mechanisms remain unaffected by the partial, and optional, exclusion of ISDS. While the partial investor-state dispute settlement exclusion is a small step in the right direction, the fundamental inconsistencies between agreements such as the TPP and public health in general are left untouched. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Treaty allows states to rule out investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) procedures from … Read More

NZ’s long-running Campylobacter epidemic from poultry: Now with antibiotic resistance - Public Health Expert

Dec 19, 2015

Prof Michael Baker & Prof Nick Wilson NZ has a long-running Campylobacter infection epidemic with contaminated fresh poultry the major source. Added to this problem is the recent rapid emergence of antibiotic resistance in these Campylobacter infections acquired from locally produced poultry. In this blog we briefly detail these problems and explore potential solutions: (i) build on the past NZ success of regulating lower contamination levels in poultry; (ii) publicise contamination levels by poultry brand; (iii) label fresh poultry with information about Campylobacter contamination and how to reduce the risk; and (iv) encourage consumers to switch to frozen or cooked poultry – or switch completely to other protein foods. Rapid spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in NZ poultry NZ has a long-term problem with Campylobacter infection from contaminated fresh chicken meat [1]. In addition, recently presented research … Read More

The race to be the first place in Aotearoa to be smokefree - Public Health Expert

Dec 17, 2015

Associate Professor George Thomson, Professor Richard Edwards There is growing frustration with lack of robust action and progress at the national level with the Smokefree 2025 goal. However, it is not all bad news. A major avenue of hope for a smokefree Aotearoa comes from the enthusiastic efforts by local coalitions of local government, NGOs and iwi. Here we detail some of the progress since 2013 in eight city and district council areas. Highlights include significant downtown smokefree areas in Whanganui, Palmerston North and Whangarei, an innovative smokefree pavement dining bylaw in Palmerston North, smokefree pavements in front of Horowhenua early childhood centres and schools, and smokefree bus stops in a number of places. The race to become the first place to be smokefree in Aotearoa is on! Ngati Kahungunu: A leader in smokefree/tobacco free events … Read More

Is Keytruda cost-effective? - Public Health Expert

Dec 15, 2015

Professor Tony Blakely Keytruda, or Pembrolizumab, is a new immune inhibitor drug that appears to have pronounced effectiveness in slowing – even reversing – disease progression in patients with advanced melanoma. It has received much media attention in recent months, and even calls from politicians to over-rule the PHARMAC process (currently PHARMAC do not recommend funding). In this blog I apply our BODE3 rapid cost-effectiveness calculator, and find that Keytruda may well be (just) cost-effective – but with huge uncertainty, and variably by age. This blog closely reflects a Radio New Zealand interview with Wallace Chapman last Sunday. Keytruda, or Pembrolizumab, is a new immune inhibitor that appears to have pronounced effectiveness in slowing – even reversing – disease progression in patients with advanced melanoma. The evidence base consists of trials published in the major journals: … Read More