This is a transcript of a press release published by the Sax Institute. 

A dearth of Australian Government funding for obesity prevention is undermining our ability to promote healthy behaviours and cut healthcare costs, say the authors of a new research paper.

The study is published in a special issue of Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, focused on collaborative partnerships for preventive health. In the study, investigators from the Institute for Health Transformation, Deakin University analysed the funding landscape for obesity prevention from 2013 to 2022, finding that just 0.1% of the Federal Government’s health budget targeted obesity prevention over the period.

Allocations for obesity prevention research from the three largest Federally funded research bodies – the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council and the Medical Research Future Fund – were also low, comprising 1.1%, 0.2% and 0.8% of their total funding, respectively. Overall, around A$778 million was allocated to 186 obesity prevention initiatives across the ten-year period.

Funding levels also fluctuated considerably, the authors found, and in two of the years studied (2015 and 2020), there were no allocations for obesity prevention in Federal Government health budgets.

Nearly one-third of Federal Government Budget preventive obesity funding allocations targeted elite sport, even though a recent systematic review found no evidence supporting the effect of elite sport in increasing physical activity or participation in sport in the general population.

Lead author Michelle Tran, a health economist and research fellow at the Institute for Health Transformation, Deakin University, said the low levels of government spending on obesity prevention are of huge concern given the potential gains from addressing the factors that contribute to obesity.

“Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, costing us billions of dollars each year. Funding cost-effective prevention strategies would be an excellent investment not only in the health of Australians, but it could also save billions in the healthcare and other costs of preventable obesity-related diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer.”

The study authors say theirs is the first study to synthesise obesity prevention funding from the Federal Government and the three main research funders for the most recent period. They call for increased and sustained funding for obesity prevention, given clear evidence that “cost-effective initiatives can improve public health and might reduce overall spending, including spending on prevention”.

Another paper in this issue calls for a new, national policy on preventing falls in older people. In a review of Australian policy documents, researchers from the University of Sydney and other institutions found there is no national policy exclusively focused on falls prevention, despite the significant cost in injury, deaths and healthcare use. They suggest a systems-oriented approach is needed to address the issue.

Other papers look at:

In an editorial, the issue’s guest editors, Dr Shaan Naughton of Deakin University and Dr Briony Hill and Associate Professor Cheryce Harrison of Monash University, note the often siloed and disparate landscape of preventive health. They suggest there is a need to not only identify and address the many risk factors of chronic disease, but also to focus on the collaborations, partnerships and systemic changes required to address them.

“Adoption of, and funding for, this dual approach by policymakers, funding bodies and academia will advance public health research and practice, enable timely translation, effective implementation and ensure impact for better health and wellbeing outcomes for Australians from conception throughout the life course,” they write.

The issue was produced in partnership with the Collaboration for Enhanced Research Impact (CERI), a joint initiative between The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre and eleven National Health and Medical Research Council Centres of Research Excellence.

Find out more about Michelle Tran’s work here.

Find out more about Dr Shaan Naughton’s work here.