Health of the nation – Jerril Rechter

We explore the health of the nation from six leaders from six health organisations.

Established in 1987 as the world’s first health promotion foundation, VicHealth’s primary focus is on advocating good health and preventing chronic disease. Conducting vital research, developing public health campaigns and providing insight and expert advice to government, VicHealth identifies opportunities for improvement in the health of Victorians in ways that can benefit all.

Describe your role?

As CEO, I am responsible for overseeing the vast range of health promotion work VicHealth carries out to improve the health of all Victorians. I oversee a team of around 80 staff who are all very committed to promoting health and making a positive and lasting change. Much of my time involves representing the organisation at public events nationally and internationally to share the groundbreaking and pioneering work VicHealth does.

What do you believe are the biggest health challenges in Australia?

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge facing modern Australians is obesity. We don’t have a solution to this issue yet. Of course we have other challenges, such as around smoking rates, but we know what we need to do in those areas, we’re doing it and doing it well. Obesity is different. Even though we know the basic principles of how to prevent obesity, the rates continue to rise.

What do you believe are the biggest health opportunities in Australia?

With obesity in particular, we can capitalise on our love of watching sport and all things sport to turn it into opportunities for exercise for everyone. One way VicHealth is doing this is via our free TeamUp app, which gives strangers opportunities to get together and play social sport. Health promotion in general needs to take advantage of the way people receive their information – which is the digital space.

What is VicHealth doing to improve the health of Australia?

From VicHealth’s perspective, health isn’t just about not being sick. Health is the ultimate combination of physical, mental, and social wellbeing. VicHealth’s focus is on preventing illness before it even gets to that stage by making changes to the world we live in and raising awareness to make the healthy choice the easy choice.

Based on your role, knowledge and experience, what advice do you have for Australians to improve their health?

Make good decisions about your physical and mental health at a young age and don’t wait until you’re ill to start improving your health. It really boils down to some very simple messages. If you smoke, quit. Try to reduce your drinking. Eat healthier and move more – how about instead of sitting, try standing whilst reading this? Get out there and make some more friends, meet new people, try something arty, give back to your community. All of these things are proven to improve health.

If you were Prime Minister for a day what would be the top three things you would do to improve the health of Australia?

We need to invest more funding in preventing illness. It really is the best value for the health dollar. I’d encourage more people to get moving more often. If we’re to beat the obesity epidemic, we need to get more people active. I’d also encourage positive changes to the way we view alcohol as a nation. Alcohol is a major cause of illness in Australia but unfortunately it is part and parcel with our culture. We need to work together to change some of those perceptions that you need to drink large quantities of alcohol in order to have a good time.

What was the most recent global conference/industry event you attended and strongest message you took away?

I went to an international health promotion and communication conference in Turkey recently and the clear message that emerged from that was how far ahead we are as a country in understanding the importance of prevention and the value of health promotion. It was a good reminder that we are currently ahead of the game but we need to keep innovating to stay ahead. As American social commentator Will Rogers said: “even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

For more information visit vichealth.vic.gov.au

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