One month on – ‘Pinning’ down that New Year’s Resolution


If 2012 is anything to go by, it seems young Aussie women who’ve pledged to eat better and lose weight as a part of their 2013 New Year’s resolution may need a helping hand to reach to their goals.

The ‘Young Women’s Nutrition Study’, commissioned by the Dietitians Association of Australia, revealed that although around two in three tried to lose weight in the past year, 80 per cent did not achieve what they had hoped and would still like to lose more.

The study also found that this year 68 per cent of 18-24 year-old Aussie women have resolved to eat healthier and 42 per cent are hoping to lose weight.

So now that the first month of the year has come to a close, why not try a new approach to make those newly-found health commitments year-long habits, and consult the digital realm?

Virtual pinboard Pinterest exploded in popularity during 2012, and could be a solution for those who find themselves visually inspired.

According to website Social Media News, about 650,000 Australians were using Pinterest by the end of 2012, making it the 10th most popular social media site. This is a significant increase from the end of 2011 when there were fewer than 48,000 users.

Whether you’re after healthy recipes, exercise tips, weight-loss stories, motivational mantras – or all of the above – to help you stick to your 2013 resolution, you’re sure to find it on Pinterest.

But be warned: the most popular pin of all time is a recipe for cheesy garlic bread, with almost 97,000 pins at last count. If you’re worried such temptations may derail your 2013 health strategy, or are new to Pinterest, refine your search by heading straight to the ‘health and fitness’ category.

Alternatively, below are a few of Cube’s top health and fitness pin-boards to get you started. Happy health-pinning!


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Getting the balance right ….for all Australians!


Accredited practicing dietitian and nutritionist, Kate Di Prima, shares her thoughts on the ‘Australia’s food and nutrition 2012’ report

Australians have access to one of the best and healthiest food supplies in the world, however it appears that a balance between unhealthy foods containing excess fat and sugar, and more nutritious choices is not being DAA Kate 22641_cropped achieved. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) recently released its report ‘Australia’s food and nutrition 2012’, looking at the dietary habits of Australian adults and children.

The major findings highlighted in the report were that many adults and children are still not eating the required serves of fruit and vegetables per day and many are consuming more fat and salt in their food than is recommended. The lack of balance means that children’s and adult’s diets fall short in providing the required nutrients for healthy growth and development. Excess fats and sugars consumed in the diet contribute to excess energy measured in kilojoules or calories. Children and adults consuming more energy than needed increase their risk of gaining excess weight.

The common foods in the Australian diet that contribute to excess energy with very little nourishment include chips, biscuits, cakes, chocolates, soft drinks and takeaway foods, and are often referred to as ‘treat’ foods. The report indicated that ‘treat’ foods were contributing on average over 1/3 of an adult’s calories and 2/5 of an average child’s intake – well and truly more than is recommended by health professionals such as doctors and dietitians.

Poor dietary intake in infancy may lead to nutritional inbalances; this in turn increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease as an adult. Unbalanced diets favouring excess energy from fat and sugar can also lead to obesity. The report indicated that the latest figures show a staggering 60% of adults and 23% of children are overweight or obese.

The Dietitans Association of Australia welcomes the findings from the ‘Australia’s food and nutrition 2012’ report and believes preventing poor health has been overlooked for too long. Getting the balance right is a major priority for the health of all Australians and starts with healthy habits in infancy.

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Today’s hot topic: what the Federal Budget will mean for the healthcare system


By Jody Fassina, Independent Political Consultant, JF Consulting

As the raft of media alerts, political alerts and public and political commentary dictate today’s papers and coffee machine conversations, here’s the low down on the health highlights (or low lights) when last night’s Federal Budget was handed down, according to leading political consultant, Jody Fassina.

Against the backdrop of record spending on the Health portfolio, estimated to be $61 billion in 2012/2013 and a 37% increase on 2007/2008 levels of which the PBS is estimated to account for $10.9 billion, in 2012/2013 the Budget did not contain a systematic attack on the PBS.

That being said, while the Government has highlighted the savings that flow from price disclosure resulting in savings of $528 million in 2012/2013, it is predicting growth in PBS expenditure of  5% per annum in 2013/2014, indicating the pressure will still be on the pharmaceutical sector.

The most disturbing initiative contained in the Health portfolio is that the Government will provide funding to the Department of Health and Ageing to recover compensation from pharmaceutical companies as a result of losses incurred by the Government due to the delay in the listing of generic medicines on the PBS.

Hence, a pharma company seeking to litigate an expired patent in the Courts that results in delay and hence foregone savings to the Government, will want to be very sure of their legal footing, because if they lose such an action the Government will seek to sue them for the loss of savings so incurred from a delayed PBS listing.

It’s not all doom and gloom however with the Government committing to deliver major new health initiatives to support front line health services redirecting $74.5 billion to essential health and ageing services and facilitating access to care particularly in rural remote regions. E-health also gets a cash injection of $233.7 million to facilitate the national roll-out and system modernisation.

Additionally, with significant investment in oral health $515.3 million, additional funds for the national bowel screening program ($49.7 million) and health facility construction ($475 million across country areas), perhaps there is a glimmer of light for a healthier nation and the pharma sector that works to support it.

Jody Fassina specialises in providing strategic counsel to both corporate and non-profit organisations requiring high level advice on public policy issues of paramount importance to their organisation. Jody has worked as a senior public affairs manager in the corporate sector with Macquarie Bank, a political consultant with a boutique Sydney firm and as a senior policy advisor to federal MPs. He is currently an independent political consultant, having established JF Consulting.

For more information contact Jody Fassina at

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Info on the move: Top medical podcasts


Recently, the British Medical Journal launched an iPad app – the first general medical journal to do so! This is truly a sign that the health world is embracing medical information ‘on the move’. The app ‘combines the weekly BMJ print journal selection of research, comment, and interactive education, along with live feeds of the latest news, blogs, podcasts, and videos’.

Useful health poscastsThe launch will be welcomed by doctors and nurses armed with tablets and smart phones, who are now more mobile than ever before – particularly those in remote and rural areas.

This mobile medical education, however, is about podcasting as much as it is about apps.

Mainstream sources of medical- and health-related podcasts include key international medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet, as well as the World Health Organisation and the Cochrane Library.

Podcasts are also increasingly being used in medical schools, including for downloadable libraries of high resolution heart and respiratory sounds.

Interestingly, a recent survey of student nurses found podcasts allowed greater control over their learning, helping them gauge their individual learning needs and build their understanding of complex topics.

Here are five top audio resources specifically relevant to clinical practice in Australia (although there are surely many more worthwhile resources!):

1.       ABC’s The Health Report – Jargon-free, easy-to-understand information and analysis on health and medical matters, considered within social, scientific and political contexts – presented by Dr Norman Swan.

2.       ABC’s Health Minutes – 60 seconds of straight talk covering the latest in medical research.

3.       Australian Family Physician – Interviews with authors from the official peer-reviewed journal of the RACGP

4.       Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council – Updates on Australia’s major health and medical research issues from the people who shape them.

The rise in popularity of audiovisual media in medical education will likely continue as society moves to using more audio and video and physicians strive to keep current in an era of evidence-based practice. Some futurists believe that we are entering a post-textual period of the Web and that there will be an even greater demand for audio and video content in the future.

Dean Giustini, UBC Biomedical Branch Library, Canada

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Nursing Australians back to health


This week marks a landmark moment in Australia’s healthcare system when a key item in the Government’s health reform plans is fully realised.  In a major change that will affect nurses – but also GPs, patients and the pharmaceutical industry – nurse practitioners and midwives will now have the power to access specific Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items and prescribe certain medicines subsidised on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The change in legislation recognises the highly-skilled and capable Australian nursing and midwifery workforce, providing a new framework to enhance and expand their role in providing quality healthcare.

Nurse prescribing is common practice overseas. The UK has seen a significant shift in the last two decades in nurse prescribing – which started in the 1990s when community based nurses were able to prescribe independently from a limited formulary. Since May 2006 independent nurse prescribers have been given the ability to “prescribe any licensed medicine for any medical condition within their competence.”

With this local shift in prescribing power now happening in Australia’s healthcare system, divisions in opinion and the murmur of a ‘turf war’ were always going to be inevitable. Great effort has been made to ensure the change in legislation preserved the requirement for nurse practitioners and midwives to work in collaboration with medical practitioners to access the MBS and PBS – essentially ensuring GPs are ‘kept in the loop’.  The AMA has gone to considerable lengths to help GPs prepare for the changes asking them to ‘embrace the changes’ or risk the possibility of jeopardising the mandated collaborative arrangements.

Importantly everyday Aussies are reportedly supportive of the Government’s move. Research just released by the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI) has shown Australians know the difference between being sick and needing a doctor and those “everyday health concerns” when a nurse practitioner would suffice.

Responses to the ongoing APHCRI survey has stated nurses are “good listeners” and could cater for “everyday health concerns, such as repeat prescriptions and minor illnesses, to free up GPs to manage more complex conditions.”  Shorter waiting times and better access to primary care has been identified as important advantages.

There is no doubt this represents a major milestone in Australia’s healthcare system. Ensuring this significant move enhances the delivery of best possible healthcare to Australians will be critical.  Time will tell whether or not we can indeed reach the levels of contribution nurse practitioners are making in the UK.

Big changes for Aussie nurses...

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It’s time we balanced the ledger


Let me introduce you to Gerald, a 12 year old living in the small outback NSW town of Bourke – population 1,800. Gerald loves fishing, Rugby League (he barracks for the Penrith Panthers) and lives with his Mum, Dad, Nan, brothers – Steven (14) and Adrian (5), and sisters – Becky (3), Isabel (1 ½) and Ruthie (two weeks old).

Gerald is an Indigenous Australian. As we are unfortunately aware, Australia continues to retain developing world standards when it comes to the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait  Islander people. In fact, Aboriginal Australians rank 103rd on the United Nations Index of Human Development (which considers life expectancy, literacy, and standard of living) compared to all Australians, who come in 4th.

Gerald’s Dad, Shaun, is 45 years old and suffers from diabetes and kidney disease. Last week, Gerald travelled 300km to the ‘big metropolis’ of Cobar (population 5,200) for his first-ever visit to the dentist (two adult teeth were removed and three fillings added). Little Ruthie was born with a low birth weight and has an 80 percent chance of developing hearing problems before her 5th birthday. And Nan (60), who has been suffering dementia for six years, was admitted to the local hospital two weeks ago where she will spend the rest of her days.

It’s time we balanced the ledger when it comes to Aboriginal health

It’s time we balanced the ledger when it comes to Aboriginal health

Indigenous health is an issue high on the agenda of the Public Health Association of Australia’s annual conference, which kicked off last week in Adelaide.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the health of Indigenous Australians is inequitable when compared to the rest of the Australian population. The rate of suicide in the Indigenous population is more than three times the non-Indigenous population. The burden of disease and injury for Aboriginal people is 2.5 times the level for non-Indigenous Australians, and dementia rates for older Aboriginal people are five times more than that of non-Indigenous Australians.

What’s more, Indigenous children born in Australia are three times more likely to die before the age of five than non-Indigenous children – survival rates similar to that of Cambodia. Indigenous men and women can expect to live 11.5 years and 10 years respectively, less than their non-Indigenous neighbours.

A harsh outlook this may seem – but it is the reality for 562,681 Indigenous people living in Australia.  So how and when will we Close the Gap 

Last week, the previous Indigenous health minister – Warren Snowdon – was reinstated along with the Indigenous health portfolio as a result of public backlash.

One way to tackle the appalling statistics is to produce more Indigenous doctors. 150 Indigenous Australians are studying medicine in universities across the country – a move in the right direction. And 420km up the road from Bourke, the small rural town of Wilcannia has struck a pioneering agreement with the federal and NSW governments to set-up Indigenous-run small businesses, in addition to improving health services by establishing nurses in schools and setting up better healthcare for pregnant women. Gerald and his family have fingers and toes crossed that Bourke will soon follow suit.

We need to see proactive strategies based at ground level and focused on the premise of community education if we are to see any genuine improvements in the state of Australia’s Indigenous health.

When the health of some Australians is comparable to that of people living in third world countries we must commit to real change to close the gap and dissolve all inequities.

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Tic tac toe. Who’s going to give Australia’s mental health a go?


THE ELECTION – it’s THE ‘hot topic’ dominating news headlines, coffee shop banter and online forums. Australia’s mental health has emerged as an issue with potential to derail the major parties. So are the parties bringing enough reform to the table to swing votes their way? 

 Mental health is Australia’s third largest health issue behind cancer and cardiovascular disease. Mental illness is the Is mental health a priority? leading cause of death for all Australians under 45, more than road trauma and binge drinking. It affects 1 in 5 Aussies and is predicted to be one of the world’s largest health problems by 2020. Such statistics can be overwhelming, however, let’s not dwell on why mental health has been relegated to the health backburner; let’s focus on escalating discussion, taking action and moving forward!

Currently, just 6 per cent of the health budget is devoted to mental health and only a third of those suffering will receive access to mental health care. Australian of the Year, Patrick McGorry has used his notoriety to give a voice to those shouting for change, particularly as 2,500 Australians die each year due to mental illness.

McGorry states that the best way to show the Australian community that mental health really is a priority for the Government is to invest in mental health reform and provide Australians with access to genuine 21st century mental health care. 

Recently the Western Australia state government appointed the first ever Mental Health Commissioner and Melbourne played host to the world’s inaugural International Youth Mental Health Conference – both small steps in the right direction.

An analysis of the major political parties’ election promises on mental health, conducted by national charity SANE Australia, has found that both policies lack vision and take a narrow and superficial view  of the complexities of mental health. SANE Australia has challenged the major parties to commit to ‘real action’ and ‘move forward’ promptly if elected.

Everyone who needs help for mental illness should get treatment and support as early as possible, for as long as needed, and in the community where they live.

In Australia, this is far from the reality of people with mental illness – says the Executive Director of SANE Australia, Barbara Hocking.

2010 is a pivotal year for mental health in Australia. Just last week, two dozen organisations have written to both main party leaders demanding for true leadership on mental health. The announcement of an election has propelled mental health out of the policy shadows and into the election spotlight. However, sustained effort and investment will be required to keep people with a mental illness living well in the community. Hopefully this August we will finally be able to give Australia’s mental health the help it deserves.

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Lab-grown organs – is the future closer than we think?


Australian Doctor reported on some pioneering research this week – researchers in the US have successfully transplanted lab-grown lung tissue into rats that works like the real thing. The pipe dream of organically grown organs has long been discussed in medical circles, but this breakthrough led us to consider whether the future might be closer than we think?

For years, transplant surgery has been the primary way of replacing severely damaged organs. Yet transplantation is one of the most challenging and complex areas of modern medicine – doctors must battle with organ rejections and transplant failure, as well as a major shortage of organs.

In June 2008, the world’s first whole tissue-engineered organ – the windpipe – was successfully transplanted into a 31 year old lady in Spain. 18 months on, she is leading a near-normal life without the need for immunosuppressants.

In cosmetics, ‘Reconstituted Human Epidermis’ (aka lab-grown skin) is already a reality – made from discarded skin during surgery, synthetic skin is being used to test the irritancy of chemicals as an alternative to animal and human testing. The technique has taken 30 years to perfect.

In the last few months, research teams have successfully created biologic blood vessels, corneal tissue and intervertebral discs. Next will be the development of a full-sized, functional organs. Moving one step further into the future, new research is investigating ways to use this technology to repair tissues and might one day prevent organ failure altogether.

However this area is surrounded by controversy. Whilst the development of lab-grown organs may benefit medicine, the use of stem cells continues to influence public opinion on whether or not research should continue. What do you think?

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What makes a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign?


Following the combined efforts of six different cancer organisations (Bowel Cancer Australia, the Gut Foundation, the GI Cancer Institute, the Bowel Cancer Foundation, the National Bowel Cancer Coalition and the Cancer Council Australia) last week in raising awareness of Australia’s second largest cancer killer, bowel cancer, it prompted us to ask: what makes a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign?

Poignant call to action

Poignant call to action

If we take a look at Bowel Cancer Awareness Week as the most recent example, the issue dominated health news headlines all week, generating some 200 media impressions each day.

While there were varying messages from all of the organisations vying for a voice, the most common and resounding messages were: this is a cancer beginning to hit younger people (emotional), screening is critical (call-to-action) and society needs to put ‘social awkwardness’ aside when it comes to talking about bowel cancer (quirkiness).

Some organisations harnessed the power of celebrity to get their message across including Lara Bingle, George Calombaris and John Singleton, while others embraced research, personal stories and a touch of humour to spread the word.

With over 160 local, national and international health awareness days, weeks and months formally recognised by the Australian Department of Health & Ageing each year, why is it that some stand out from the crowd and demand such public and media attention, like Bowel Cancer Awareness Week, while others remain almost unheard of?

We know that not all health awareness campaigns are created equal and when embarking on a health awareness campaign, whether it’s an NGO, charity or pharmaceutical company, there needs to be a number of critical ingredients in place for a level of noise to be achieved. A host of important decisions must be made and depending on the topic/issue in question, one may find they have to work that little bit harder than their counterparts to pique the interest of media and ultimately get their target audience to act.

Working in the area of health and having played a part in many a health awareness campaign over the years, we’ve put together our top tips (with a couple of examples showing these in action) for what can help make a ‘healthy’ health awareness campaign:

1. Compelling, new research & statistics

2. Clear call-to-action that can be measured

3. Celebrity/high profile personality including MPs

4. Appeals to wider community – not just those that are affected

5. Real life stories

6. Specialists, key opinion leaders, clinical spokespeople

7. Original, creative or quirky take on getting the message across

8. Finding a journalist/media outlet with a personal connection

9. Ways to extend the campaign beyond the ‘day’, ‘week’ or ‘month’

10. Strong online presence

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Always on the line…is social media bad for your health?


This week has seen a resurgence in discussion about the effect mobile phones are having on our health, with a large international study receiving widespread media coverage. Suggestions about the health impact of our mobile phone habits are a popular topic, so it may be worthwhile considering the impact the so-called ‘digital age’ and the resulting constant connectivity has on our health.

Our very smart phones allow us to stay connected, longer. But next time you are getting through the flurry of work emails on your Blackberry/iPhone while in traffic or on the bus, or even at home in front of the telly, consider this: a recent study has linked working overtime to an increased risk of heart disease.

This is worrying, considering a survey found nearly one third of Americans feel they need to stay connected to work 24/7, even during weekends and holidays. With Australians working the longest hours of any other country, we must be batting a similar average.

And with almost a third of us now using our mobiles to tweet and update our Facebook accounts, is it any wonder there are suggestions some are becoming addicted? In light of this, Facebook apps like this are eerily ironic.

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