Saturday, April 19, 2008

Smoking ban, fitness tests for healthier nation

SMOKING would be banned for everyone born next year, junk food would be taxed and everyone would be subjected to a fitness test by 2020.

By comparison, the cost of healthy food, including fruit and vegetables, would be reduced to reflect its low environmental impact and obvious health benefits.

These are just a few of the ideas from 100 of the nation's health experts who discussed the best way to combat obesity, reduce illness and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said one idea put forward in a submission was an annual national fitness test where citizens would receive a financial incentive if they pass.

Health stream participants in the 2020 summit also discussed increasing public education about how death can be a "positive experience" to avoid patients panicking when they reach hospital emergency departments.

Health participant, Meredith Sheil, a former Westmead Children's Hospital pediatrician, said many participants had suggested a ban on cigarette sales by 2020.

"A lot of the health submissions suggested a ban on smoking by 2020," she said.

"You would say, 'OK, from now on everybody born after 2008, you are not allowed to sell cigarettes (to)'."

Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton suggested increasing the cost of artificial and packaged food. "I actually think we need to price foods according to their environmental and health impact, rather than harping at people to eat this or that," she said.

"All the artificial foods would become very expensive and the healthy foods would be cheaper."

The health stream of the 2020 summit also discussed sharing patient medical records nationally, to allow a hospital in a regional area to effectively treat an inner-city patient.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma, who sat in on the health stream, said there should be a shift towards preventative health and warned that health expenditure could consume the entire State budget by 2037.

Mr Iemma listened to suggestions from participants that state health departments be scrapped and replaced by regional wellness centres.
He conceded a new approach was needed towards health and education issues, such as truancy, in each regional area as well as an increased focus on aged care.
"Hospitals in rural areas are de facto nursing homes," he said. "Another option is to have not four levels of health care, but an integrated system."
Ski champion Alisa Camplin suggested expanding the active after-school communities program to ease the burden on the health system.
"Creating a national program focused on physical activity would provide a pro-active framework for Australians to attain greater general well-being and receive preventative, rehabilitative and curative health support," Camplin wrote in her submission.


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