11 December 2018.

Last month the Sax Institute’s journal Public Health Research & Practice launched its inaugural Excellence Awards for papers published in the journal that were most likely to have a real impact on health policy and practice.

The Best Paper Award was won by a team led by Associate Professor Ray Lovett from the Australian National University (ANU), for its research on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rates; while the Award for Best ‘In Practice’ Paper went to a team led by Dr Claire Hooker from the University of Sydney, for its work on communicating with the public about naturally occurring asbestos.

The ANU paper tracked absolute change in Indigenous smoking rates and found a significant decrease between 2004 and 2015, translating into many thousands of deaths avoided thanks to the reduction. The team’s approach of looking at absolute figures, rather than expressing Indigenous smoking trends as they compare to the decline in overall smoking, as has occurred with much existing research, revealed the significant progress being made in this important area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

The award for the Best ‘In Practice’ Paper specifically recognises work authored by frontline practitioners. This year’s winning paper focused on public health communications around naturally occurring asbestos. The hazards of asbestos in mining and construction contexts have been well publicised – but the mineral also occurs naturally in the environment, such as in rocks and soils, where it carries only a fraction of the risk, yet can still cause disproportionate public concern.

“Simply telling people they’re wrong to worry never works in health communications,” the paper’s lead author Dr Claire Hooker said.

“The key message is that you need to build trust, and the best way to do this is through transparency. You must be transparent and give information to people, even if you don’t necessarily trust their response.”

You can read more about these research projects here and here, and watch videos of the winners discussing their work here.