9 September 2022
Healthier Lives recently commissioned an audit of government policies related to our mission – the equitable prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Our goal was modest; we didn’t attempt to assess the quality of policies, establish whether they are being actively implemented or evaluate whether they are effective. We simply wanted to find out what relevant policies exist.
Cameron Leakey, a Master of Public Health student at the University of Auckland undertook the audit with guidance from Professor Jennifer Curtin and Dr Lara Greaves (Ngāpuhi, Pākehā, Tararā) from the Public Policy Institute, University of Auckland. Their report, Healthier Lives National Science Challenge: Policy Inventory, describes the current landscape of government health policies for the major non-communicable diseases in Aotearoa New Zealand.
It concludes that, with the exception of cancer, there is a lack of cohesive policy or policy-driven action plans for the Healthier Lives target diseases. The 2019-2029 Cancer Action Plan, developed by Te Aho o Te Kahu, the Cancer Control Agency, provides policy guidance for cancer control. However, the picture is very different for the other diseases.
While there are guidelines for cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management, there is no overarching government policy or plan of action for CVD, the leading cause of death in New Zealand. The Living Well with Diabetes plan 2015–2020 has lapsed. We understand that work is underway to develop a new national action plan but at present there is no overarching policy for one of our fastest growing health problems. Furthermore, there is no coordinated action plan to address obesity. Guidelines exist for clinical treatment and to highlight the importance of a healthy diet and adequate physical activity, but there is no overarching strategy to reduce obesity rates, despite knowledge of the societal and environmental factors that contribute to New Zealand having amongst the highest rates of adult obesity in the world.
In light of the findings of this policy inventory, it is unsurprising that health researchers have the impression that there is currently no clear pathway between research, policy and practice. Recent reforms to the health system have strengthened the Ministry of Health’s role in policy development. It is essential that within the restructured health system there is a transparent process for the development of evidence-informed policy relating to the prevention and treatment of CVD, diabetes and obesity as well as a strategy for the implementation and evaluation of policy.
Healthier Lives will shortly release a report which identifies what we believe to be the key principles and elements of such a process.
Leakey, C.J. Curtin, J., and Greaves, L.M. (2022). Healthier Lives National Science Challenge: Policy Inventory. Auckland: Public Policy Institute, University of Auckland. DOI: 10.17608/k6.auckland.19372769
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