New awards honour health research with real-world impact

Research that is likely to have a real impact on health policy and practice is being celebrated in the inaugural Public Health Research & Practice Excellence Awards.

“I’m delighted to present these awards, which recognise scientific excellence combined with real-world impact in papers published in our journal,” said Professor Don Nutbeam, Editor-in-Chief of Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Sax Institute.

“The winners of these awards, along with those who have been highly commended for their contribution to the journal, have made important, original contributions to our understanding of public health.”

Dr Martin McNamara, Deputy CEO of the Sax Institute, said the instigation of the Public Health Research & Practice Excellence Awards underscored the Institute’s commitment to encouraging and disseminating public health research that yielded tangible improvements in health policy and practice.

“The Sax Institute is pleased to honour the work of talented researchers whose work will help shape Australia’s future public health landscape,” he said.

The journal is presenting an award for Best Paper, and another for the Best ‘In Practice’ Paper, which specifically recognises work authored by frontline practitioners. Both papers are assessed on rigour of methodology, quality of analysis and effectiveness in writing, structure and presentation. The judging panel for these awards comprises members of the Journal’s Editorial Board.

The winner of the Best Paper Award is a team led by Associate Professor Ray Lovett from the Australian National University. The team’s paper tracks absolute change in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smoking rates from 2004 to 2015. By taking this approach rather than expressing Indigenous smoking trends as they compare to the decline in overall smoking, as has occurred with much existing research, the authors have revealed the significant progress being made in this important area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

The researchers found smoking prevalence was down considerably over the period, from 50% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in 2004 to just over 40% in 2015. That means many thousands of premature deaths are being avoided thanks to this reduction.

Associate Professor Lovett, who is a Wongaibon man from far west New South Wales, said it was important to report on absolute changes in smoking rates, rather than changes relative to the general population.

“A lot of research looks at the disparity between smoking rates in the general population and in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s a substantial gap that has not changed much in the past 10 years. But if we report that, it sounds like nothing’s changed, when in fact there has been a 9% decline in absolute rates. From a policy perspective, it’s really important to report on this progress, because it makes people feel positive about the issue and it increases interest in how to promote healthy behaviours.”

The winner of the Best ‘In Practice’ Paper Award is a team from the University of Sydney and NSW Health, for their paper on communicating with the public about naturally occurring asbestos.

Asbestos is a known health hazard and employers and public health organisations rightly go to great lengths to minimise human exposure, particularly in the mining and construction contexts. But asbestos 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. The comparison with anti-vaccination advocates is very useful. It’s a common reaction to tell them they’re wrong and irresponsible, but that just makes them dig in. You must be transparent and give information to people, even if you don’t necessarily trust their response.”


Best Paper

Deadly progress: changes in Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult daily smoking, 2004–2015 (7 December 2017)
Raymond Lovett, Katherine Thurber, Alyson Wright, Raglan Maddox, Emily Banks

Best ‘In Practice’ Paper

Communicating with the public about the risks of naturally occurring asbestos (7 December 2017)
Claire Hooker, Adam Capon, Isabel Hess

Highly commended – research papers

Evaluation of ‘Stop Smoking in its Tracks’: an intensive smoking cessation program for pregnant Aboriginal women incorporating contingency-based financial rewards
Megan Passey, Janelle Stirling

Support for food policy initiatives is associated with knowledge of obesity-related cancer risk factors
Wendy Watson, Marianne Weber, Clare Hughes, Lyndal Wellard, Kathryn Chapman

Highly commended – ‘In practice’ papers

Intergovernmental collaboration for the health and wellbeing of refugees settling in Australia
Belinda Martin, Paul Douglas

The Aboriginal Population Health Training Initiative: a NSW Health program established to strengthen the Aboriginal public health workforce
Ben Li, Aaron Cashmore, Dawn Arneman, Wendy Bryan-Clothier, Lisa McCallum, Andrew Milat




Hugo Wilcken, Media Manager, Sax Institute

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Nyssa Skilton, PHRP Editor

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Public Health Research & Practice is an open-access, peer-reviewed, Medline-listed quarterly online journal published by the Sax Institute. Click here to subscribe for free.

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