Media coverage across different outlets is vital to increasing the impact of our work, building the reputation of our researchers and reinforcing the Institute’s role in transforming the design and delivery of prevention and care.
During 2020, the intense media focus on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic placed the Institute’s Professor Catherine Bennett in the spotlight as her expertise and unbiased commentary made her a favourite with media nationally and internationally. Other Institute experts were also featured in COVID-19 related news coverage, evaluating the implications of lockdowns, end of life care during a pandemic and opportunities to improve policies and our healthcare systems. Institute researchers also worked hard to keep other important health issues, such as obesity prevention, support for people with disability, mental health and the effects of climate change on health, in the headlines.
In the first three months of 2020, media coverage focused on the population health impacts of unhealthy diets. A/Prof Kathryn Backholer was quoted in the Herald Sun on the role of price promotions for unhealthy drinks over the festive season in unhealthy weight gain, and A/Prof Gary Sacks wrote Don’t believe the myths – taxing sugary drinks makes us drink less of it for The Conversation. Research from GLOBE labelling Melbourne a ‘food swamp’ drew attention from the Herald Sun and local papers, and a study investigating the costs of obesity inequality on the health system was also covered.
By April, researchers across the Institute were contributing to the debate and discussion on COVID-19. Professor Samantha Thomas featured in a number of online, print, radio and TV interviews around the country, including Channel 10’s The Project, SBS, ABC, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Conversation discussing the impact of COVID-19 on gambling habits and online gambling. Professor Catherine Bennett provided expert comment on a range of COVID-related issues, from hygiene to herd immunity to coronavirus modelling and lifting of restrictions. A/Prof Melissa Bloomer published pieces in HelloCare about How to start a Conversation About End of Life Care and in Aged Care Insite about what the outbreak of COVID-19 reveals about palliative care in aged care. Institute Director Professor Anna Peeters commented in The Australian on the COVID-19 telehealth boom and shared some tricks for taking effective work breaks while you’re at home in the Sydney Morning Herald.
In May, a combination of Professor Catherine Bennett’s regular comments on COVID-19 and the release of the Inside our Supermarkets 2020 report by A/Prof Gary Sacks and his team delivered considerable media coverage for the Institute. Gary also co-authored one of three Institute pieces in The Conversation for the month, Supermarkets claim to have our health at heart. But their marketing tactics push junk foods, while Professor Tracey Bucknall co-authored Are thermal cameras a magic bullet for COVID-19 fever detection? There’s not enough evidence to know and Professor Bodil Rasmussen, Emeritus Professor Maxine Duke and A/Prof Martin Hensher wrote The ‘hospital in the home’ revolution has been stalled by COVID-19. But it’s still a good idea. Professor Elizabeth Manias provided commentary on looking after our wider health during COVID-19 and Professor Anna Peeters and Professor Trish Livingston and Martin Hensher had articles appear in MJA Insight+.
With the reopening of many pokies venues in June, Professor Samantha Thomas received coverage on ABC News and Professor Catherine Bennett wrote the first of many pieces for The Conversation, discussing the potential for uncounted coronavirus deaths in Australia. Catherine’s opinion was also sought on a range of topics from blood donations to border closures, crowds at AFL games and the potential of a second wave of the COVID-19 virus in Victoria. A/Prof Gary Sacks received extensive coverage on the impact of junk food social media marketing on Australian kids on the back of another piece for The Conversation, Social media platforms need to do more to stop junk food marketers targeting children. Institute researchers also had a number of articles published in MJA Insight Plus and Deakin disruptr, including Associate Professor Angela Dew and colleagues and Professor Cathy Mihalopoulos.
July saw continued media coverage for Professor Catherine Bennett in national and international media outlets on a range of topics, from maintaining social distancing to mandatory mask wearing. Dr Karen Wynter was interviewed for an article titled ‘An alchemic awakening’ in the July issue of the Mindful Parenting Magazine sold in supermarkets and received coverage in the Geelong Advertiser and Essential Baby for her research into new dads and sleep deprivation. Professor Sharon Brennan-Olsen co-authored an article on Indigenous mental health research and COVID-19 in MJA Insight+ and Alfred Deakin Professor Tracey Bucknall and her co-authors’ May The Conversation article about thermal cameras was quoted in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Professor Catherine Bennett continued to be sought after for expert comment on the COVID-19 pandemic throughout August and penned several opinion pieces for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, including How Victoria can drive the coronavirus out and Stage four lockdown offers a chance to find our path out. Professor Anna Peeters was also in The Age, providing expert comment in People need to change their behaviour to stop COVID. How do you make them? Dr Amie O’Shea appeared on an Australasian Society for Intellectual Disability podcast to talk about her research with LGBTIQA+ people with disability and Associate Professor Genevieve Pepin gave an interview to a sister station of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for its evening news ‘Le Québec maintenant’, covering the latest COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on allied health, particularly occupational therapy, and higher education.
In September, Professor Cathy Mihalopoulos, A/Prof Martin Hensher and Professor Catherine Bennett wrote an opinion piece for The Age Lockdown is working, but is it excessive? about health economists and epidemiologists using QALYs to inform policy debates and decisions. Catherine also provided other opinion pieces for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, including Dropping cases should lead to a ‘common-sense’ rethink on opening up and Steps out will be incremental, frustrating, even arbitrary and appeared on Sunrise (Seven network), The Today Show (Nine network) and the 7.30 Report (ABC). A/Prof Melissa Bloomer and Dr Stéphane Bouchoucha continued to receive coverage for their work on COVID end-of-life care, publishing Patients with COVID-19 shouldn’t have to die alone. Here’s how a loved one could be there at the end in The Conversation. They also appeared on JOY 94.9 radio to talk about their research. A/Prof Adrian Cameron and the EatWell@IGA project were featured in a VicHealth article and the work of Alfred Deakin Professor Marj Moodie and others was referenced in NCDs Club … We don’t want your membership; no more a silent killer in the Fiji Times.
October was another busy month for Professor Catherine Bennett as she appeared in radio, print, online and regular television interviews for programs like ABC News Channel, Channel 7’s Sunrise and Channel 10’s The Project. Her daily interviews for media outlets including The Age, The Herald Sun, The New Daily, The Guardian, and 3AW, ABC Radio, Sky News and Ticker TV covered topics as diverse as Melbourne’s lockdown to thunderstorm asthma and mask wearing to how to have a COVID-safe Halloween. She produced two opinion pieces for The Age – Now we’re opening up, testing and contact tracing really matters and Five-kilometre rule, five-person household groups don’t quite add up – and three for The Conversation: Melbourne is almost out of lockdown. It’s time to trust Melburnians to make their own COVID-safe decisions; A 14-day rolling average of 5 new daily cases is the wrong trigger for easing Melbourne lockdown. Let’s look at ‘under investigation’ cases instead; and Where did Victoria go so wrong with contact tracing and have they fixed it? She also co-wrote an opinion piece COVID success will only come when Premier trusts the public for The Age with Professor Tony LaMontagne, Melbourne University’s Professor Joe Torresi and University of Oxford’s Emeritus Professor Terry Dwyer. A/Prof Martin Hensher featured in a BMJ podcast about Universal Basic Income and Job Guarantee proposals and COVID-19, and Dr Rebecca Patrick was quoted in an article syndicated across a number of publications about a national survey on climate change and eco-anxiety.
In November, Professor Catherine Bennett appeared in radio, print, online and regular television interviews and penned several opinion pieces, including What is behind Victoria’s suppression success, and will it last? for The Age and South Australia’s 6-day lockdown shows we need to take hotel quarantine more seriously for The Conversation. Catherine’s appearance to give evidence at the Parliamentary Inquiry into Victoria’s contact tracing was also covered in the media. Work by A/Prof Professor Kathryn Backholer, Alexandra Chung, Christina Zorbas, Devorah Reisenberg and Ruby Brooks on policies to restrict unhealthy food advertising on government-owned assets gained wide media coverage, especially across Western Australia, where the work supported an advocacy campaign in the lead up to the State election: WA health experts call for end to junk food advertising on government property and Ban junk food ads on public transport and other WA Government property, health agencies say. Professor Tony LaMontagne’s role in the IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre-led project on mental health support for small businesses made the news in Business research centre funded for mental health training and Funding boost for small-business advisors’ mental health training.
As the year drew to a close, there was no respite for Professor Catherine Bennett, who continued her expert COVID-19 commentary on radio, TV and print on topics ranging from mandatory mask wearing to waste water testing to the UK’s COVID vaccine rollout. A/Prof Gary Sacks and his colleagues were back in the news for their research on the extent and potential impact of food industry involvement in research, with coverage in MedicalXpress and the NT News.