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NZ health promotion academic named Public Health Champion

New Zealand health promotion academic named Public Health Champion 2015

Public Health Association media release, 8 September 2015

Embargoed until 9pm, 8 September 2015

The Public Health Association (PHA) is pleased to announce its Public Health Champion for 2015 is academic, published author and tireless, innovative health promoter Professor John Raeburn. The annual award was presented at the PHA Conference Dinner in Dunedin tonight. It recognises the outstanding work of an individual in public health.

John was nominated for the award by Joanne Aoake and Dallas Honey for the way he has influenced the fabric, structure and essence of health promotion and public health policy in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally.

Born in Auckland, John began his “incremental journey” into public health with a PhD in behavioural clinical psychology and became the assistant director of the first behavioural therapy institute in Montreal, Canada in 1969. Returning to New Zealand in 1972 he taught medical and postgraduate students at the University of Auckland for around 30 years.

“During that time I became very interested in the wider context of people’s health and wellbeing and I think what drew me to public health was its emphasis on the larger, cultural and social context. I was struck by the literature on how cohesive communities are terrifically good for health. The importance of community is the area of public health I identify with most,” John says.

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In 1986 John was again working in Canada and became one of the two New Zealand’s delegates to the Ottawa Charter Conference, eventually playing a significant part in its design and implementation.

The Ottawa Charter is probably the most utilised tool in health promotion in New Zealand, alongside the Treaty of Waitangi, and John says its importance is in how it changed the emphasis of public health promotion.

“Until that time health promotion was largely about changing people’s lifestyles: eating better, driving safer, having safe sex, not smoking and so on. But the Ottawa Charter put the wider socio-political determinants of health model on the map. It turned the emphasis from people’s behaviour to policy, to changing society so that people and communities can more easily live healthy lives.

“My theme in health promotion has always been empowerment: people first; people driven; strength-building; that sort of thing. In fact the only time the word ‘empowerment’ appears in the Ottawa Charter is my doing!”

John retired in 2006 but remains an Adjunct Professor of Public Health at AUT University. He says some of the most rewarding innovations of his career have included the creation of ‘community houses’ in Birkenhead and other locations, including rural Northland, which were like mini marae where people in suburban areas and small towns could get together and build community.

“It was based on the cohesive community concept with which I am still very enamoured. The village mentality, connectedness at the local level, is an incredibly powerful determinant, greatly underrated by people in public health, so that’s my area of passion.”

John has co-written a book, People-centred health promotion, which emphasised that people remain as important as public health policy, and was the first person in New Zealand to be involved in public health and gambling. He was part of the drafting group for the Bangkok Charter in the mid 2000s, which was ultimately designed to replace the Ottawa Charter.

His current projects are a book on spirituality and another on planetary health, which focuses on the globalised, ecological, environment issues now facing the world. He’s also involved in ‘super-ageing’ – a whole new way of looking at the ageing process.

“It’s about setting up a whole new community and getting ‘oldies’ engaged in changing society,” he says.

Joanne Aoake says John has continually found ways to be relevant and vibrant in today’s society, but that his most overwhelming characteristic is his humility.

“He has remained humble, generous and supportive of all those who have had the good fortune to have known him, to have been taught by him, or simply to have been in his presence,” she says.

John says he is overwhelmed to have received the Public Health Champion Award.

“It is definitely one of the highlights of my life, and it has added lustre because the nomination was by two of my Maori colleagues.”


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