Health Policy Centre

Health Policy Centre

The Health Policy Centre at SAHMRI works in partnership with the University of Adelaide School of Public Health to conduct a range of research activities to inform public health policy and interventions.

The centre’s core work involves behavioural and policy research to inform public health interventions.

The research activities of the Health Policy Centre achieve high translation and improved health outcomes through active engagement with government policy makers and non-government organisations.

The Centre applies a public health approach to prevent chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes and has major ongoing programs of research specialising in food policy and obesity prevention, tobacco control and COVID-19.

Food Policy and Obesity Prevention

The Health Policy Centre actively contributes to food policy reform and obesity prevention through programs of research into reducing over-consumption of highly processed food and beverages.

With rising rates of overweight and obesity and the increasing disease burden these health risks impose, timely and effective action is required. One quarter of children and adolescents, and more than two-thirds of Australian adults, are overweight or obese. Those who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of developing serious health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, asthma and other respiratory problems, sleep disorders, periodontal disease and liver disease.

Significant health and economic benefits can be achieved through a comprehensive multi-faceted public health approach to obesity prevention, including taxes (or a health levy) on sugar-sweetened beverages, product reformulation, mandatory front-of-pack labelling, advertising regulations and large-scale public education campaigns.

Work conducted by the Health Policy Centre informs evidence to advance Australia’s progress in obesity prevention and dietary risk through its dedicated NHMRC-funded work in sugar-sweetened beverages and programs of research in ultra-processed food and alcohol consumption.

Sweetened Beverages

Sugar-sweetened beverages are often consumed in high volumes and are low in nutritional value. Consumption increases overall energy intake and over-consumption is associated with a range of health effects including obesity, dental caries, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The Health Policy Centre has a dedicated program of research to address this global health issue. Results of this work have contributed to Australian and New Zealand reform of both the Health Star rating system and added sugar labelling policy. This program of work continues to explore effectiveness of interventions such as consumer warning labels, as well as consumer reactions to potential policy interventions in Australia, such as taxes or health levies.

Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol consumption places a large burden on Australia’s health system and is associated with more than 200 chronic health problems including overweight and obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, nutrition-related conditions and cirrhosis. The centre also has significant expertise in evaluating social marketing campaigns and has a significant role in the evaluation of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education maternal health campaign, in partnership with the University of Adelaide and Flinders University.

COVID-19 Analytics Unit

The COVID-19 Analytics Unit was established in the Health Policy Centre to provide timely, evidence-based advice to assist the Chief Public Health Officer and support South Australia’s responses to COVID-19 in 2021.

The unit also delivers modelling to inform policy, in partnership with expert modellers at the University of Adelaide. This was an extension of work commenced at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, when the Health Policy Centre worked in partnership with the Commission on Excellence and Innovation in Health, with the support of Health Translation SA, to deliver rapid evidence syntheses to assist in state and national responses to COVID-19. The COVID-19 Analytics Unit is comprised of Professor Caroline Miller, Dr Joanne Dono and Professor Steve Wesselingh.

View the units COVID-19 analyses

University of Adelaide/SAHMRI SA COVID-Ready modelling - 80% vaccination coverage

SA Health COVID-19 modelling

Tobacco control

The Health Policy Centre makes a substantial contribution to evidence-based policy and practice in tobacco control locally, nationally and internationally.

Tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. It places a large burden on the South Australian community and health system, with latest figures putting the state’s health care expenditure attributable to smoking at approximately $500 million.

The centre’s evidence, research, policy briefings and publications influence South Australian tobacco control policy, practice and resource allocation. Evidence has been used to inform, underpin and evaluate all SA Tobacco Control policy for the past 20 years including smoke-free dining and workplace legislation, smoke-free hospitality venues, smoke-free cars, smoke-free health services and outdoor areas, the removal of tobacco displays at point of sale, the increase in tobacco licence fees and legislation around e-cigarettes.

View the South Australian smoking and vaping statistics 2023.

Psychosocial outcomes and Quality of life

All the work of Health Policy Centre is aimed at improving health outcomes and this work extends to psychosocial outcomes and quality of life. Examples of projects and special interest areas include:

  • Patient reported outcomes incorporating psychosocial assessment in cancer populations
  • Weight stigma and obesity policy