Are the National Preventive Health initiatives likely to reduce health inequities?
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This paper examines commitments to address health inequities within current (2008–11) Australian government initiatives on health promotion and chronic disease prevention. Specifically, the paper considers: the Council of Australian Governments’ ‘National partnership agreement on preventive health’; the National Preventative Health Taskforce report, ‘Australia: the healthiest country by 2020’; and the Australian Government’s response to the taskforce report, ‘Taking preventative action’. Arising from these is the recent establishment of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency. Together, these measures represent a substantial public investment in health promotion and disease prevention. The present paper finds that these initiatives clearly acknowledge significantly worse health outcomes for those subject to social or economic disadvantage, and contain measures aimed to improve health outcomes among Indigenous people and those in low socioeconomic status communities. However, we argue that, as a whole, these initiatives have (thus far) largely missed an opportunity to develop a whole of government approach to health promotion able to address upstream social determinants of health and health inequities in Australia. In particular, they are limited by a primary focus on individual health behaviours as risk factors for chronic disease, with too little attention on the wider socioeconomic and cultural factors that drive behaviours, and so disease outcomes, in populations.