Laureate Professor Rob Sanson-Fisher is a population health researcher who has had a major influence on many aspects of medical practice.

Cutting health risks

The University's Centre for Health Behaviour brings together researchers across a range of fields carrying out health behaviour research on key public health issues. Among the focus areas are cardiovascular disease, cancer control and other chronic illnesses.

Rob Sanson-Fisher looking into the camera 

The Centre's Director, Laureate Professor Rob Sanson-Fisher, is an internationally renowned population health researcher. Regarded in his field as someone who pushes boundaries, his work has had a major influence on many aspects of medical practice. Through his leadership the Centre is developing, implementing and evaluating health behaviour strategies aimed at doctors, patients, the community and the public health sector.

"Few centres in Australia or internationally bring together such a diverse range of multidisciplinary expertise, all concerned with measuring and estimating health-related problems and intervening to improve relevant health behaviours," Sanson-Fisher said.

The impressive record of achievement by the Centre's researchers is testament to the collective weight of knowledge and expertise of the group. Accomplishments include developing interventions to reduce health risks like smoking, unhealthy alcohol use and inadequate sun protection.

Centre researchers have designed strategies to increase the number of people being immunised and screened for diseases such as diabetes, and bowel and breast cancer.

Researchers are involved in the 'Good for Kids, Good for Life' NSW Government program aimed at reducing childhood obesity and the National Heart Foundation of Australia's cardiovascular disease and depression strategic research program.

A focus for the Centre revolves around Sanson-Fisher's expertise in reducing the emotional, or psychosocial, impact of diseases like cancer and developing clinical practice guidelines and training for doctors in this area.

Centre members have played a leading role in the development and introduction of clinical practice guidelines and training to help medical practitioners emotionally support patients through the diagnosis and treatment of life-impacting illness. However, little is known about the onset, duration, frequency and severity of psychosocial morbidity associated with other chronic diseases over time.

To address this, and to determine better ways to care for people diagnosed with cancer, Centre members are undertaking Australia's first longitudinal cancer study. The Cancer Survival Study is tracking the wellbeing of adult cancer survivors and their caregivers, studies of adolescent cancer survivors and their parents, and terminally ill cancer patients. The project, undertaken in partnership with the NSW Cancer Council, aims to track how the issues faced by cancer sufferers and their caregivers change over time.

How Australians reacted to the pandemic threat created by the outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus ('swine flu') during 2009 is another focus of Centre researchers. With communication about the virus vital for implementing effective risk reduction and containment strategies, researchers will look at what measures people put in place to help stop swine flu spreading. Commissioned by the Australian Government, the research will inform future communication strategies and messages on swine flu preparedness.

The Centre is extending its research capacity in the area of health disadvantage, which encompasses people from low social economic backgrounds as well as those from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background.

"The value in such a broadranging research centre lies in the increased collaboration between individuals working across groups with a different disease focus," Sanson-Fisher said.

"It's a fantastic model for sharing expertise in research methodologies and behaviourchange strategies that have a critical role to play in increasing research output in the preventative health field."Laureate Professor Rob Sanson-Fisher and researchers at the Centre for Health Behaviour work in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute's (HMRI) Public Health Program and Hunter New England Population Health. His research is supported by an HMRI Grant funded by the Lawrie Bequest.

Find out more about the University's Centre for Health Behaviour