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.

Let’s talk about taxing those sweet, sweet sugary drinks - Unsorted

Jul 05, 2017

How much revenue would a New Zealand sugary drink tax raise? And how might be best to do it? Last week a FIZZ symposium was run in Auckland. A key focus was moving New Zealand towards adopting a sugary drink tax. As part of the policy briefing prepared for this FIZZ Symposium, we were asked to estimate the revenue from such a tax – which we outline here, and estimate to be between $65 and $100 million a year. We also consider implementation options. Many countries or jurisdictions have put in place a sugary drink tax, and from 1 January 2018 the UK will implement a tiered levy based on the sugar content of drinks on the beverage industry (more on this at the end of this blog). For a general background on sugary drink taxes, see previous Public Health … Read More

Only eight more years to go to 2025: Time for the NZ Government to step up its tobacco endgame - Public Health Expert

Jun 29, 2017

By Frederieke Sanne van der Deen, Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Christine Cleghorn, Dr Linda Cobiac, Dr Giorgi Kvizhinadze, Dr Nhung Nghiem, Prof Tony Blakely We have eight more years to go until 2025 – the year of the NZ Government’s Smokefree goal. NZ is not on track to achieve this goal, especially not for Māori. In this blog we discuss the findings of our just published study in Tobacco Control, where we have estimated the future impacts of a range of proposed novel and substantive strategies that may accelerate the reduction in smoking prevalence (ie, ‘tobacco endgame strategies’). We find that some endgame strategies could achieve NZ’s Smokefree goal, deliver large health gains and cost-savings, and could largely reduce the ethnic gap in tobacco-related health inequalities. In 2011, prompted by the Māori Affairs Select Committee, the NZ Government announced a … Read More

New Standardised Packaging Regulations: Some good steps, but many missed opportunities - Public Health Expert

Jun 28, 2017

Professor Janet Hoek and Professor Philip Gendall The NZ Government’s recently released Standardised Packaging Regulations contain some important advances over Australia’s legislation, but they also miss opportunities to recognise tobacco industry innovations. This blog discusses changes that establish a new benchmark and why these are important, but also examines how the regulations could have gone further and suggests measures that other countries might consider including as they develop their standardised packaging policies. Plain (or standardised) packaging has been in place in Australia since late 2012, and early evaluations already show knowledge of how smoking’s harms has increased while the appeal of smoking has declined. Despite desperate attempts by tobacco companies to manufacture an illicit trade problem, the empirical evidence shows this heavily promoted adverse outcome has not eventuated.1 2 Instead, predicted outcomes have emerged even earlier than hoped: … Read More

Can pandemic threats justify border closure for island nations like NZ? - Public Health Expert

Jun 26, 2017

Professor Nick Wilson, Dr Matt Boyd, Dr Osman Mansoor, Professor Michael G Baker Countries prepare for future pandemic risks because of pandemic influenza, novel emerging infectious agents and possible synthetic bioweapons. In a study we just published in a journal, we explored the costs and benefits of complete border closure in NZ in response to new pandemic threats. We found that there were some very severe pandemic scenarios where rapid closure of NZ’s border could provide overall societal benefit – even with the disruptions it would cause to tourism and trade. Humanity probably faces increasing risks of new pandemics because of the growing density of human populations and various socio-economic, environmental and ecological factors (1). There are also added threats from deliberate human modification of existing or potential pathogens (2). Many millions of people were affected by the outbreak of … Read More

Open data, transparency and power – role of the Virtual Health Information Network - Public Health Expert

Jun 14, 2017

Dr Andrea Teng, Dr Barry Milne, Mr Philip Walker, Prof Tony Blakely The NZ Government is showing strong leadership on data sharing. In this blog we describe some of the opportunities and the challenges in this new data environment. We focus on how the Virtual Health Information Network (VHIN) can contribute to stronger health research and therefore benefit the health of all New Zealanders. The VHIN is a network of health data users, especially in the Statistics NZ Integrated Data Infrastructure, looking to support each other and improve the quality of ‘big data’ research in NZ. We highlight the benefits of VHIN membership and how you can contribute. Value and opportunity NZ is uniquely positioned to capitalise on linked health data. The Government has set a clear direction to increase the availability of data to improve decision-making, service … Read More

Ethnic inequalities in mortality in NZ and how to reduce them further - Public Health Expert

May 29, 2017

Dr George Disney, Dr Andrea Teng, June Atkinson, Frederieke Sanne van der Deen, Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Tony Blakely  In a study we just published, we found that whilst there have been declines in all-cause mortality rates, over time, for Māori, Pacific peoples and the European/Other ethnic group, there are still striking mortality gaps that need to be addressed. Ethnic mortality inequalities are generally stable or even falling in absolute terms, but have increased on a relative scale. To further address these inequalities, NZ policy-makers have many options, ranging from equalising socio-economic factors between ethnic groups, improving access to health services, tobacco control and addressing the obesogenic environment. Recently, especially in the United States, there has been a growing concern that social inequalities are increasingly leading to widening inequalities in health (1). Other recent research highlights the overall importance … Read More

A 100 years ago: The worst year of the First World War for New Zealand - Public Health Expert

May 01, 2017

Professor Nick Wilson, University of Otago; Professor Glyn Harper, Massey University The year 1917 was the worst year of the First World War for New Zealand from a premature mortality perspective, with 5547 deaths. We have just presented on this topic at a Symposium at Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) and in this blog we summarise the mortality patterns we described. We also consider to what extent some of these deaths may have been preventable with knowledge available at the time. The 5547 deaths among New Zealand military personnel in 1917, was more than for any other year of the First World War (33.2% of the total up to the day the war ended [5547/16,703] [1]). Our analysis of deaths in the Roll-of-Honour [1] shows that injury deaths predominated (at 92.8%), followed by deaths from disease … Read More

Will liberalising nicotine availability increase quitting? - Public Health Expert

Apr 24, 2017

Prof Janet Hoek, Mei-Ling Blank, Prof Nick Wilson, Lindsay Robertson, Dr Louise Marsh Do the New Zealand (NZ) Government’s proposed changes to liberalise the e-cigarette market set out a robust process for helping people who smoke to switch to e-cigarettes? In this blog, we discuss the proposed regulatory changes and explain some of the complex practices smokers must adopt when commencing vaping. We suggest limiting supply of nicotine e-cigarettes to specialist vape stores and pharmacies, to ensure people wishing to quit smoking can obtain expert advice and thus maximise their chances of quitting. We also argue that, at the same time as liberalising access to nicotine e-cigarettes, the Government should restrict access to tobacco, which remains available at thousands of retail outlets throughout NZ. The Government has recently announced that it intends to change the current law to “ … Read More

Is it time to pilot a test and treat programme for reducing the stomach cancer burden and inequalities in NZ? - Public Health Expert

Apr 18, 2017

Dr Andrea Teng, Dr Melissa McLeod, Professor Tony Blakely, Professor Nick Wilson  We have just published a modelling study on stomach cancer prevention in the international journal BMC Infectious Diseases (1). This blog briefly examines how a possible population screening programme, that tests and treats for infection by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori in the stomach, may be a cost-effective way to reduce the stomach cancer burden and ethnic inequalities in stomach cancer incidence and mortality in New Zealand. The rate of new cases of stomach cancer presenting each year have declined over time but these improvements remain slow and stomach cancer continues to be more common among Māori and Pacific peoples (2) (Figure 1), Figure 1: Stomach cancer incidence rates over time by sex and ethnicity, New Zealand Census Mortality and CancerTrends Study, 1981-2011 (2,3) (Data explorer) Stomach cancer … Read More

What does art have to do with public health, and how can they work together? - Public Health Expert

Apr 12, 2017

Jenny Ombler, Dr Sarah Donovan (University of Otago, Wellington) Last month was the first time that the Public Health Summer School (University of Otago, Wellington) has considered art, and its relationship to public health. The Symposium featured artists, arts academics, an architect, and public health practitioners and academics. In this blog we consider some of the issues raised and build the case for ongoing collaborations between the arts and public health. So what was the point of this eclectic gathering? Contemporary public health faces a number of challenges. First, an array of emerging health issues arising from complex environmental and socio-economic processes, in particular, climate change and growing social and health inequalities. The solutions to these ‘wicked problems’ require a concerted effort beyond the scope of a single discipline or sector of society. At another level, the … Read More