Australia: the healthiest country by 2020
National Preventative Health Strategy - Overview
4. Influence markets and develop connected and coherent policies
The past successes in prevention, cited earlier in this Overview, have been distinguished by the clear level of policy coherence and agreement at national, state and local levels.
The Taskforce believes that in areas where government intervention is recommended, this should be informed by the approach known as responsive regulation
. The responsive regulation model has been extensively researched and is widely accepted in a range of non-health contexts; for example, in tax systems, in competition policy and in environmental regulation.
In essence, it proposes a staged but potentially escalating approach to change (see the diagram below). This allows for ‘soft’ mechanisms – such as voluntary change, self-regulation, co-design, public reporting or positive incentives – to be trialled, and the results measured and assessed, rather than opting immediately for ‘harder’ mechanisms of regulation, enforcement or fiscal sanctions. However, the responsive regulation model also requires an explicit commitment from government to escalate the degree and level of regulation if ‘softer’ approaches do not deliver the desired and agreed processes and outcomes.
This approach respects the fact that, when confronted with good evidence of the negative externalities arising from particular practices, many players in the marketplace want to do the right thing. Responsive regulation allows for voluntary adjustments and the development of creative solutions through government, industry and consumer partnerships, but these actions are clearly seen to occur within a framework of potential sanctions should the desired outcomes not be achieved.
Currently in Australia we have voluntary, self-regulatory systems operating in the regulation of alcohol advertising and sponsorship, with much ‘stronger’ regulation and enforcement of drink driving and licensing for the sale of alcohol.
In 2009 a new voluntary, self-regulatory system has commenced in food and beverage advertising to children. This approach contrasts to that in tobacco, which over the last 30 years has moved from codes of conduct to regulation and legislation, using taxation as a very effective mechanism to increase pricing and reduce consumption.
The effectiveness of the voluntary codes that are in place can now be monitored and shifted to ‘harder’ mechanisms if they are found to be ineffective. This is all the more reason why Australia needs enhanced national infrastructure to monitor and measure the progress of different aspects of the Strategy.
Informing individuals and families
Promoting good health calls for interventions that assist all Australians to make well-informed decisions about their health. In this context, such interventions include knowledge of the impact of nutrition and physical activity tobacco and alcohol on health, and the knowledge and skills to avoid harmful behaviours and adopt health-promoting behaviours.
Given the complexity of these issues, and the complex social influences involved, this will inevitably require a multi-layered approach of social marketing, community-level initiatives, formal education in health literacy (for example, as proposed by the NHHRC), specific information about products (such as product labelling), and regulations to prevent or limit the marketing of potentially harmful products.
This approach is seen as being integral to enhancing personal choice and responsibility, while also changing community norms to healthier behaviours and increasing demand for healthier products.