Why do we always forget about Preventive Health?

The recent election has been and gone and a new government elected. 

What were the major party’s preventative health strategies? An internet search comes up with nothing. They were non-existent. We know that prevention is better than cure. Data, research, and history have continually shown a four-fold return on investment to the health budget. We know that exercise improves physical and mental health. 

Despite this, the major parties continue to overlook the most logical opportunity to reduce health spending and improve the health of Australians: prevention. Promotion of health and well-being in our communities is bizarrely somehow seen as less important and valuable. But it does not have to be that way.

Healthcare system on the brink.

With hospitals in gridlock and ambulances queued outside, the healthcare system is on the brink with experts calling for radical change. Improvements in community health radiate out to the rest of the economy by reducing health care costs, improving mental health, enhancing workforce productivity, and increasing the amount of labour available.

Australia is getting fatter.

Australia and the western world are getting fatter and unhealthier. 2/3 of the Australian adult population is overweight and 1/3 obese. Mental health is one of the world’s modern pandemics, as it becomes the 3rd leading cause of chronic health problems in youth with the leading cause of death for 15–24-year-olds. Mental health affects how we think, feel and act, determining our daily choices. Exercise is known to not only improve mental health and wellbeing but reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and negative mood swings through improving function and self-belief. 

What the pandemic as taught us.

The pandemic saw consistent and public calls from the Prime Minister, Federal Health Minister, State Premiers and Chief Health Officers urging Australians to maintain or begin an exercise program to look after and maintain their physical and mental health. These calls reflect the accepted fact that exercise plays a critical role in improving both the physical health and mental wellbeing of Australians.

Yet Governments treat us like fools.

Yet we continually see the government treat us like fools at the election by throwing gimmicks at us like a new sports stadium here or different sports rort there to buy our votes. The Australian population is smarter than that and a recent study proved that this type of superficial spending does not affect our voting.

PE and Sport under threat.

PE and school sport are constantly under threat in the school curriculum and environment. School students are lucky to get one lesson of PE per week. Inter school sport in the State system is slowly dying. This has been exaggerated during the pandemic. And yet we know the importance of physical activity and physical literacy for growth and development in our children.

Increasingly we hear about poor literacy and numeracy and mental health and overweightness in our children. And we keep providing less and less opportunities for them to play and be physically active. 

Fitness and sport are linked to education and socio/economic factors. 

Those struggling to pay for the weekly groceries and rent are unlikely to be worried about investing in their gym membership. The rising cost of living will only escalate this. A recent survey found two-fifths of respondents aren’t exercising because they feel it’s too expensive. “It’s a sad reality that when we’re hit with financial stressors, people don’t often see their health and fitness as a priority.

Less funds for health, more for sickness.

The health system is setup to incentivise poor health with increased funding available for sickness rather than a smaller value spent on prevention. When we go to the local doctor the norm is to be given some pills. And then some more pills to counter the side effects of the first pills. Why isn’t healthy eating and lifestyle (sleep and exercise) discussed as a priority? 

What Sport provides.

It is well known that sport provides social inclusion, community cohesion, national identity, and pride. All things that our current society is struggling with. Yet sport sits on the periphery associated with the dumb jock or gym meat head. After the election the sport portfolio is hand balled around as an afterthought. 

So why isn’t Preventive Health on the agenda?

What is the solution? Getting people more physically active and the government investing in preventative health. Instead of fixing broken people let’s invest in getting people healthy “Health is Wealth”. Let’s get PE back in the school curriculum. Let’s educate GP’s on preventative health strategies such as exercise and healthy eating. 

We need to educate and incentivise people to take responsibility for their own health. We need to provide inclusive opportunities and ensure the most socially disadvantaged are provided with opportunities to exercise. 

A culture of activity

A focus on prevention aligns with the values of efficiency, cost-savings and supporting individuals to make good decisions. We can provide a platform to encourage our community to exercise more and eat well – the way to do that is through ensuring availability of parks and bike lanes, ensuring access to healthy foods, and creating a culture of activity. And the private health insurance industry should be solidly behind prevention to stop, or at least delay, people from getting sick and requiring payouts.

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