Given the importance of high sodium diets as a risk factor for disease burden (ranked 11th in importance in the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010), we aimed to determine the feasibility of low-sodium diets that were also low-cost, nutritious and (for some scenarios) included familiar meals.
The mathematical technique of “linear programming” was used to model eight optimized daily diets (some with uncertainty), including some diets that contained “familiar meals” for New Zealanders or were Mediterranean-, Asian- and Pacific-style diets. Data inputs included nutrients in foods, food prices and food wastage.
Using nutrient recommendations for men and a cost constraint of
These results provide some reassurance for the feasibility of substantially reducing population sodium intake given currently available low-cost foods and while maintaining some level of familiar meals. Policy makers could consider ways to promote such optimized diets and foods, including regulations on maximum salt levels in processed foods, and taxes on alternative foods that are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.
To describe some of the variability across the world in levels of quit smoking attempts and use of various forms of cessation support.
Use of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project surveys of smokers, using the 2007 survey wave (or later, where necessary).
Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, UK, Uruguay and USA.
Self-report on use of cessation aids and on visits to health professionals and provision of cessation advice during the visits.
Prevalence of quit attempts in the last year varied from under 20% to over 50% across countries. Similarly, smokers varied greatly in reporting of visiting health professionals in the last year (< 20% to over 70%), and among those who did, provision of advice to quit also varied greatly. There was also marked variability in the levels and types of help reported. Use of medication was generally more common than use of behavioural support, except where medications are not readily available.
There is wide variation across countries in rates of attempts to stop smoking and use of assistance with higher overall use of medication than behavioural support. There is also wide variation in the provision of brief advice to stop by health professionals.
There is increasing interest in ending the tobacco epidemic and in applying ‘endgame’ solutions to achieve that goal at national levels. We explored the understanding of, and reactions to, a tobacco-free vision and an endgame approach to tobacco control among New Zealand smokers and non-smokers.
We recruited participants in four focus groups held in June 2009: Māori (indigenous people) smokers (n=7); non-Māori smokers (n=6); Māori non-smokers (n=7); and non-Māori non-smokers (n=4). Participants were from the city of Whanganui, New Zealand. We introduced to them the vision of a tobacco-free New Zealand and the concept of a semi-autonomous agency (Tobacco-Free Commission [TFC]) that would control the tobacco market as part of an endgame approach.
There was mostly strong support for the tobacco-free New Zealand vision among all groups of participants. The reason most commonly given for supporting the vision was to protect children from tobacco. Most participants stated that they understood the TFC concept and reacted positively to it. Nevertheless, rather than focusing on organisational or structural arrangements, participants tended to focus on supporting the specific measures which a future TFC might facilitate such as plain packaging of tobacco products. Various concerns were also raised around the TFC, particularly around the feasibility of its establishment.
We were able to successfully communicate a complex and novel supply-side focused tobacco control policy intervention to smokers and non-smokers. The findings add to the evidence from national surveys that there is public support, including from smokers, for achieving a tobacco-free vision and using regulatory and policy measures to achieve it. Support for such measures may be enhanced if they are clearly communicated and explained with a rationale which stresses protecting children and future generations from tobacco smoking.
Objective. To establish the trends in prevalence, and correlates, of roll-your-own (RYO) use in Canada, USA, UK and Australia, 2002–2008.
Methods. Participants were 19,456 cigarette smokers interviewed during the longitudinal International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four-Country Survey in Canada, USA, UK, and Australia. Results. “Predominant” RYO use (i.e., >50% of cigarettes smoked) increased significantly in the UK and USA as a proportion of all cigarette use (both P < .001) and in all countries as a proportion of any RYO use (all P < .010). Younger, financially stressed smokers are disproportionately contributing to “some” use (i.e., ≤50% of cigarettes smoked). Relative cost was the major reason given for using RYO, and predominant RYO use is consistently and significantly associated with low income. Conclusions. RYO market trends reflect the price advantages accruing to RYO (a product of favourable taxation regimes in some jurisdictions reinforced by the enhanced control over the amount of tobacco used), especially following the impact of the Global Financial Crisis; the availability of competing low-cost alternatives to RYO; accessibility of duty-free RYO tobacco; and tobacco industry niche marketing strategies. If policy makers want to ensure that the RYO option does not inhibit the fight to end the tobacco epidemic, especially amongst the disadvantaged, they need to reduce the price advantage, target additional health messages at (young) RYO users, and challenge niche marketing of RYO by the industry.
Food safety measures that lower incidence of campylobacteriosis might also prevent Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Guillain-Barré syndrome; Campylobacter infection; camplyobacteriosis; food safety; poultry; government regulations; public health surveillance; epidemiology; New Zealand
The persistent excess in adverse outcomes by ethnicity highlights the need for improved public health responses.
Evidence suggests that indigenous populations have suffered disproportionately from past influenza pandemics. To examine any such patterns for Māori in New Zealand, we searched the literature and performed new analyses by using additional datasets. The Māori death rate in the 1918 pandemic (4,230/100,000 population) was 7.3× the European rate. In the 1957 pandemic, the Māori death rate (40/100,000) was 6.2× the European rate. In the 2009 pandemic, the Māori rate was higher than the European rate (rate ratio 2.6, 95% confidence interval 1.3–5.3). These findings suggest some decline in pandemic-related ethnic inequalities in death rates over the past century. Nevertheless, the persistent excess in adverse outcomes for Māori, and for Pacific persons residing in New Zealand, highlights the need for improved public health responses.
influenza pandemic; virus; historical; Maori; Pacific
We aimed to describe use of a national quitline service and the variation in its use by smoker characteristics (particularly ethnicity and deprivation). The setting was New Zealand (NZ), which takes proactive measures to attract disadvantaged smokers to this service.
The NZ arm of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Survey (ITC Project) utilizes the New Zealand Health Survey (a national sample) from which we surveyed adult smokers in two waves (N = 1,376 and N = 923) 1 year apart.
Quitline use in the last 12 months rose from 8.1% (95% CI = 6.3%–9.8%) in Wave 1 to 11.2% (95% CI = 8.4%–14.0%) at Wave 2. Māori (the indigenous people of NZ) were significantly more likely to call the Quitline than were European/other smokers. Relatively higher call rates also occurred among those reporting higher deprivation, financial stress, a past mental health disorder, a past drug-related disorder, and higher psychological distress (Kessler 10-item index). Independent associations in the multivariate analyses of Quitline use were being Māori, reporting financial stress, and ever having been diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
This national Quitline service is successfully stimulating disproportionately more calls by Māori smokers and those with some measures of disadvantage. It may therefore be contributing to reducing health inequalities. It appears possible to target quitlines to reach those smokers in greatest need.
Although the association between smoking status and poorer mental health has been well documented, the association between quit status and psychological distress is less clear. The aim of the present study is to investigate the association of smoking status and quit status with psychological distress.
Data for this study is from a single year of the Survey of Families, Income and Employment (SoFIE) conducted in New Zealand (2004/05) (n = 18,525 respondents). Smoking status and quit status were treated as exposure variables, and psychological distress (Kessler-10) was treated as the outcome variable. Logistic regression analyses were performed to determine the association of smoking with psychological distress in the whole adult population and quit status with psychological distress in the ex- and current-smoking population.
Current smokers had higher rates of high and very high psychological distress compared to never smokers (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 1.45; 95% CI: 1.24-1.69). Unsuccessful quitters had much higher levels of high to very high levels of psychological distress (16%) than any other group. Moreover, compared to long-term ex-smokers, unsuccessful quitters had a much higher odds of high to very high levels of psychological distress (aOR = 1.73; 95% CI: 1.36-2.21).
These findings suggest that the significant association between smoking and psychological distress might be partly explained by increased levels of psychological distress among current smokers who made a quit attempt in the last year. This issue needs further study as it has implications for optimising the design of quitting support.
smoking status; quit status; psychological distress; socioeconomic status
Tobacco control strategies have mainly targeted reducing demand. Supply-side focused measures, though less familiar, deserve consideration, particularly to achieve 'endgame' tobacco control aims (e.g. achieving close to zero smoking prevalence). We explored attitudes towards supply-side focused 'endgame' tobacco control approaches and how they can be best communicated with senior policymakers, journalists, and public health practitioners.
We identified five supply-side focused approaches which could potentially lead to the tobacco endgame: two structural models and three discrete actions. The structural models were: (i) a Nicotine Authority to coordinate tobacco control activities and regulate the nicotine/tobacco market for public health aims; and (ii) a Tobacco Supply Agency acting as a monopoly purchaser of tobacco products and controlling the tobacco supply for public health aims. The actions were: (a) allocating progressively reducing tobacco product import quotas (the 'sinking lid') until importation and commercial sale of tobacco products ceased; (b) making tobacco companies responsible for reducing smoking prevalence with stringent financial penalties if targets were missed; and (c) new laws to facilitate litigation against tobacco companies. These approaches were presented as means to achieve a tobacco free New Zealand by 2020 to 19 senior policymakers, journalists, and public health physicians in two focus groups and eight interviews, and their reactions sought.
The tobacco-free vision was widely supported. Participants engaged fully with the proposed tobacco control approaches, which were viewed as interesting or even intriguing. Most supported increasing the focus on supply-side measures. Views differed greatly about the desirability, feasibility and likely effectiveness of each approach. Participants identified a range of potential barriers to implementation and challenges to successfully advocating and communicating these approaches. The current framing of tobacco as a risky but legal commodity was noted as an important potential barrier to implementing endgame approaches.
Endgame tobacco control approaches were considered to be viable policy options. Further policy analysis, research and public discussion are needed to develop endgame approaches. A significant change in the public framing of tobacco may be a prerequisite for implementing endgame solutions.
A population-level food safety response successfully reduced disease incidence.
Beginning in the 1980s, New Zealand experienced rising annual rates of campylobacteriosis that peaked in 2006. We analyzed notification, hospitalization, and other data to explore the 2007–2008 drop in campylobacteriosis incidence. Source attribution techniques based on genotyping of Campylobacter
jejuni isolates from patients and environmental sources were also used to examine the decline. In 2008, the annual campylobacteriosis notification rate was 161.5/100,000 population, representing a 54% decline compared with the average annual rate of 353.8/100,000 for 2002–2006. A similar decline was seen for hospitalizations. Source attribution findings demonstrated a 74% (95% credible interval 49%–94%) reduction in the number of cases attributed to poultry. These reductions coincided with the introduction of a range of voluntary and regulatory interventions to reduce Campylobacter spp. contamination of poultry. The apparent success of these interventions may inform approaches other countries could consider to help control foodborne campylobacteriosis.
bacteria; foodborne infections; Campylobacter; epidemiology; surveillance; poultry; food supply; bacterial typing; research; New Zealand
An innovative approach to learning public health by using feature-length commercial movies was piloted in the fourth year of a medical degree. We aimed to explore how students responded to this approach and the relative effectiveness of two promotional strategies. Firstly we placed DVDs of 15 movies (with public health-related content) in the medical school library. Then alternating groups of students (total n = 82 students) were exposed to either a brief promotional intervention or a more intensive intervention involving a class presentation. The response rates were 99% at baseline and 85% at follow-up.
The level and strength of support for using movies in public health training increased after exposure to the public health module with significantly more students "strongly agreeing". Student behaviour, in terms of movies viewed or accessed from the library, also suggested student interest. While there were no statistically significant differences in median viewing or library access rates between the two intervention groups, the distribution of viewing patterns was shifted favourably. Those exposed to the more intensive intervention (class presentation) were significantly more likely to have reported watching at least one movie (97% vs. 81%; p = 0.033) or to having accessed at least one movie from the library (100% vs. 70%, p = 0.0001).
This pilot study found that the students had very positive attitudes towards viewing public health-related commercial movies. Movie access rates from the library were also favourable.
Governments use law to constrain aspects of private activities for purposes of protecting health and social wellbeing. Policymakers have a range of perceptions and beliefs about what is public or private. An understanding of the possible drivers of policymaker decisions about where government can or should intervene for health is important, as one way to better guide appropriate policy formation. Our aim was to identify obstacles to, and opportunities for, government smokefree regulation of private and public spaces to protect children. In particular, to seek policymaker opinions on the regulation of smoking in homes, cars and public parks and playgrounds in a country with incomplete smokefree laws (New Zealand).
Case study, using structured interviews to ask policymakers (62 politicians and senior officials) about their opinions on new smokefree legislation for public and private places. Supplementary data was obtained from the Factiva media database, on the views of New Zealand local authority councillors about policies for smokefree outdoor public places.
Overall, interviewees thought that government regulation of smoking in private places was impractical and unwise. However, there were some differences on what was defined as 'private', particularly for cars. Even in public parks, smoking was seen by some as a 'personal' decision, and unlikely to be amenable to regulation. Most participants believed that educative, supportive and community-based measures were better and more practical means of reducing smoking in private places, compared to regulation.
The constrained view of the role of regulation of smoking in public and private domains may be in keeping with current political discourse in New Zealand and similar Anglo-American countries. Policy and advocacy options to promote additional smokefree measures include providing a better voice for childrens' views, increasing information to policymakers about the harms to children from secondhand smoke and the example of adult smoking, and changing the culture for smoking around children.
The aim of this study was to examine knowledge and attitudes to lower harm alternatives to cigarettes among New Zealand (NZ) smokers.
The NZ arm of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Survey (ITC Project) utilizes the NZ Health Survey (a national sample). From this sample, we surveyed adult smokers (N = 1,376).
Knowledge about smokeless tobacco was poor, with only 16% regarding such products as less harmful than ordinary cigarettes. Only 7% considered such products to be “a lot less” harmful. When participants were asked to assume that these products were much less harmful than cigarettes, 34% of smokers stated that they would be interested in trying smokeless tobacco products, with another 11% saying “maybe” or “don't know.” In the multivariate analysis, Māori smokers were significantly more interested in trying smokeless products than Europeans in all 3 models considered (e.g., Model 1: adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.71, 95% CI = 1.23–2.37). There was also significantly increased interest for those concerned about the impact of smoking on health and quality of life in the future (AOR = 1.44, 95% CI = 1.17–1.78). But interest did not vary significantly by 2 measures of socioeconomic status and varied inconsistently by 2 measures of financial stress.
The finding that one third of smokers said that they would be interested in trying smokeless products suggests that these products could have a role as part of a tobacco epidemic endgame that phases out smoked tobacco. Differences in interest level by ethnic group may be relevant to stimulating further work in this area (e.g., among those health workers concerned for smokers with the highest need to quit).
TOC summary: Crowding and ventilation problems contributed to an increased risk of death.
We describe the epidemiology and risk factors for death in an outbreak of pandemic influenza on a troop ship. Mortality and descriptive data for military personnel on His Majesty’s New Zealand Transport troop ship Tahiti in July 1918 were analyzed, along with archival information. Mortality risk was increased among persons 25–34 years of age. Accommodations in cabins rather than sleeping in hammocks in other areas were also associated with increased mortality risk (rate ratio 4.28, 95% confidence interval 2.69–6.81). Assignment to a particular military unit, the field artillery (probably housed in cabins), also made a significant difference (adjusted odds ratio in logistic regression 3.04, 95% confidence interval 1.59–5.82). There were no significant differences by assigned rurality (rural residence) or socioeconomic status. Results suggest that the virulent nature of the 1918 influenza strain, a crowded environment, and inadequate isolation measures contributed to the high influenza mortality rate onboard this ship.
Influenza; pandemic; viruses; New Zealand; infectious disease outbreak; troop ship; mortality; risk factors; military; historical review
To examine the content and trends of safety‐related consumer information in magazine vehicle advertisements, as a case study within the worldwide marketing of vehicles.
Content analysis of popular current affairs magazines in New Zealand for the 5‐year period 2001–2005 was undertaken (n = 514 advertisements), supplemented with vehicle data from official websites.
Safety information in advertisements for light passenger vehicles was relatively uncommon with only 27% mentioning one or more of nine key safety features examined (average: 1.7 out of nine features in this 27%). Also included were potentially hazardous features of: speed imagery (in 29% of advertisements), power references (14%), and acceleration data (4%). The speed and power aspects became relatively more common over the 5‐year period (p < 0.05 for trend).
To enhance informed consumer choice and improve injury prevention, governments should consider regulating the content of vehicle advertisements and vehicle marketing – as already occurs with many other consumer products.
Some countries have started to extend indoor smokefree laws to cover cars and various outdoor settings. However, policy-modifiable factors around smoker support for these new laws are not well described.
The New Zealand (NZ) arm of the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Survey (ITC Project) derives its sample from the NZ Health Survey (a national sample). From this sample we surveyed adult smokers (n = 1376).
For the six settings considered, 59% of smokers supported at least three new completely smokefree areas. Only 2% favoured smoking being allowed in all the six new settings. Support among Maori, Pacific and Asian smokers relative to European smokers was elevated in multivariate analyses, but confidence intervals often included 1.0.
Also in the multivariate analyses, "strong support" by smokers for new smokefree area laws was associated with greater knowledge of the second-hand smoke (SHS) hazard, and with behaviours to reduce SHS exposure towards others. Strong support was also associated with reporting having smokefree cars (aOR = 1.68, 95% CI = 1.21 - 2.34); and support for tobacco control regulatory measures by government (aOR = 1.63, 95% CI = 1.32 - 2.01). There was also stronger support by smokers with a form of financial stress (not spending on household essentials).
Smokers from a range of population groups can show majority support for new outdoor and smokefree car laws. Some of these findings are consistent with the use of public health strategies to support new smokefree laws, such as enhancing public knowledge of the second-hand smoke hazard.
The new International Health Regulations (IHR) require World Health Organization (WHO) member states to assess their core capacity for surveillance. Such reviews also have the potential to identify important surveillance gaps, improve the organisation of disparate surveillance systems and to focus attention on upstream hazards, determinants and interventions.
We developed a surveillance sector review method for evaluating all of the surveillance systems and related activities across a sector, in this case those concerned with infectious diseases in New Zealand. The first stage was a systematic description of these surveillance systems using a newly developed framework and classification system. Key informant interviews were conducted to validate the available information on the systems identified.
We identified 91 surveillance systems and related activities in the 12 coherent categories of infectious diseases examined. The majority (n = 40 or 44%) of these were disease surveillance systems. They covered all categories, particularly for more severe outcomes including those resulting in death or hospitalisations. Except for some notifiable diseases and influenza, surveillance of less severe, but important infectious diseases occurring in the community was largely absent. There were 31 systems (34%) for surveillance of upstream infectious disease hazards, including risk and protective factors. This area tended to have many potential gaps and lack integration, partly because such systems were operated by a range of different agencies, often outside the health sector. There were fewer surveillance systems for determinants, including population size and characteristics (n = 9), and interventions (n = 11).
It was possible to create and populate a workable framework for describing all the infectious diseases surveillance systems and related activities in a single developed country and to identify potential surveillance sector gaps. This is the first stage in a review process that will lead to identification of priorities for surveillance sector development.
Objectives To assess the risk of transmission of pandemic A/H1N1 2009 influenza (pandemic A/H1N1) from an infected high school group to other passengers on an airline flight and the effectiveness of screening and follow-up of exposed passengers.
Design Retrospective cohort investigation using a questionnaire administered to passengers and laboratory investigation of those with symptoms.
Setting Auckland, New Zealand, with national and international follow-up of passengers.
Participants Passengers seated in the rear section of a Boeing 747-400 long haul flight that arrived on 25 April 2009, including a group of 24 students and teachers and 97 (out of 102) other passengers in the same section of the plane who agreed to be interviewed.
Main outcome measures Laboratory confirmed pandemic A/H1N1 infection in susceptible passengers within 3.2 days of arrival; sensitivity and specificity of influenza symptoms for confirmed infection; and completeness and timeliness of contact tracing.
Results Nine members of the school group were laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic A/H1N1 infection and had symptoms during the flight. Two other passengers developed confirmed pandemic A/H1N1 infection, 12 and 48 hours after the flight. They reported no other potential sources of infection. Their seating was within two rows of infected passengers, implying a risk of infection of about 3.5% for the 57 passengers in those rows. All but one of the confirmed pandemic A/H1N1 infected travellers reported cough, but more complex definitions of influenza cases had relatively low sensitivity. Rigorous follow-up by public health workers located 93% of passengers, but only 52% were contacted within 72 hours of arrival.
Conclusions A low but measurable risk of transmission of pandemic A/H1N1 exists during modern commercial air travel. This risk is concentrated close to infected passengers with symptoms. Follow-up and screening of exposed passengers is slow and difficult once they have left the airport.
To establish a reproducible method to estimate he point prevalence of smoking and second‐hand smoke (SHS) exposure in cars, and to compare this prevalence between two areas of contrasting socioeconomic status.
A method involving two teams of observers was developed and evaluated. It involved observing 16 055 cars in Wellington, New Zealand. Two of the observation sites represented a high and a low area of deprivation (based on a neighbourhood deprivation index) and three were in the central city.
A 4.1% point prevalence of smoking in cars was observed (95% confidence interval (CI) 3.8% to 4.4%). There was a higher prevalence of smoking in cars in the high deprivation area relative to the other sites, and particularly compared to the low deprivation area (rate ratio relative to the latter 3.2, 95% CI 2.6 to 4.0). Of cars with smoking, 23.7% had other occupants being exposed to SHS. Cars with smoking and other occupants were significantly more likely to have a window open (especially if the smoker was not the driver). The observation method developed was practical, and inter‐observer agreement was high (κ value for the “smoking seen in car” category 0.95).
Observational studies can be an effective way of investigating smoking in cars. The data from this survey suggest that smoking in cars occurs at a higher rate in relatively deprived populations and hence may contribute to health inequalities. Fortunately, there are a number of policy options for reducing SHS exposure in cars including mass media campaigns and laws for smoke‐free cars.
tobacco smoking; second‐hand smoke; cars; motor vehicles; observational study
Some island nations have explicit components of their influenza pandemic plans for providing travel warnings and restricting incoming travellers. But the potential value of such restrictions has not been quantified.
We developed a probabilistic model and used parameters from a published model (i.e., InfluSim) and travel data from Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs).
The results indicate that of the 17 PICTs with travel data, only six would be likely to escape a major pandemic with a viral strain of relatively low contagiousness (i.e., for R0 = 1.5) even when imposing very tight travel volume reductions of 99% throughout the course of the pandemic. For a more contagious viral strain (R0 = 2.25) only five PICTs would have a probability of over 50% to escape. The total number of travellers during the pandemic must not exceed 115 (for R0 = 3.0) or 380 (for R0 = 1.5) if a PICT aims to keep the probability of pandemic arrival below 50%.
These results suggest that relatively few island nations could successfully rely on intensive travel volume restrictions alone to avoid the arrival of pandemic influenza (or subsequent waves). Therefore most island nations may need to plan for multiple additional interventions (e.g., screening and quarantine) to raise the probability of remaining pandemic free or achieving substantial delay in pandemic arrival.
To test the hypothesis that tobacco companies would not follow a regulation that required seven new graphic health warnings (GHWs) to be evenly distributed on cigarette packs and that they would distribute fewer packs featuring warnings regarded by smokers as being more disturbing.
Cross-sectional survey of purchased packs (n = 168) and street-collected discarded packs (convenience sample of New Zealand cities and towns, n = 1208 packs) with statistical analysis of seven types of new GHWs. A priori warning impact was judged using three criteria, which were tested against data from depth interviews with retailers.
The GHWs on the purchased packs and street-collected packs both showed a distribution pattern that was generally consistent with the hypothesis ie, there were disproportionately more packs featuring images judged as "least disturbing" and disproportionately fewer of those with warnings judged "more disturbing". The overall patterns were statistically significant, suggesting an unequal frequency of the different warnings for both purchased (p < 0.0001) and street-collected packs (p = 0.035). One of the least disturbing images (of a "corpse with toe-tag") dominated the distribution in both samples. Further analysis of the street-collected packs revealed that this image appeared disproportionately more frequently on manufactured cigarettes made by each of the three largest New Zealand tobacco companies. Although stock clustering could explain the purchase pack result, there were no obvious reasons why the same uneven warning distribution was also evident among the street-collected packs.
These results suggest that tobacco companies are not following the regulations, which requires even distribution of the seven different GHWs on cigarette packs; further monitoring is required to estimate the extent of this non-compliance. As an immediate measure, governments should strictly enforce all regulations applying to health warnings, particularly given that these are an effective tobacco control intervention that cost tax payers nothing.
There is some evidence that medical students consider population health issues less important than other domains in the health sciences and attitudes to this field may become more negative as training progresses. A need to improve research skills among medical students has also been suggested. Therefore we piloted an integrative teaching exercise that combined teaching of research skills and public health, with real-world research.
Third year medical students at the University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand) filled in a questionnaire on their housing conditions and health. The students were given the results of the survey to discuss in a subsequent class. Student response to this teaching exercise was assessed using a Course Evaluation Questionnaire.
Of the 210 students in the class, 136 completed the Course Evaluation Questionnaire (65%). A majority of those who responded (77%) greatly supported or supported the use of the survey and seminar discussion for future third year classes. Most (70%) thought that the session had made them more aware and concerned about societal problems, and 72% felt that they now had an improved understanding of the environmental determinants of health. Students liked the relevance and interaction of the session, but thought it could be improved by the inclusion of small group discussion. The findings of the students' housing and health were considered by the tutors to be of sufficient value to submit to a scientific journal and are now contributing to community action to improve student housing in the city.
In this pilot study it was feasible to integrate medical student teaching with real-world research. A large majority of the students responded favourably to the teaching exercise and this was generally successful in raising the profile of public health and research. This approach to integrated teaching/research should be considered further in health sciences training and continue to be evaluated and refined.