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A world first trial of routine chlamydia testing, targeting all sexually active young people, will be undertaken in Australian general practice.

An Australian study of families with genetic risk of bowel cancer has found that 50 percent of participants declined genetic testing when informed of insurance implications.

“This indicates that people have a significant fear of insurance discrimination which impacts their decision to have potentially life saving genetic testing,” says co-lead author Dr Louise Keogh, of the University of Melbourne’s Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society.

The population-based study was led by researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Cancer Council Victoria, and published in the prestigious Medical Journal of Australia today.

Researchers identified 106 people from 25 families in which there were genetic mutations that increase the risk of bowel cancer. All were offered the chance to learn their own individual genetic information at a Familial Cancer Clinic.

“When we told participants about the life insurance implications of genetic testing, the number declining genetic testing more than doubled from 20 per cent to 50 per cent,” Dr Keogh said.

“In Australia, while genetic information has no implications for health insurance, it can affect life, trauma, disability and sickness and accident insurance policies, “says co-lead author Christine van Vliet, School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales.

“However this is not the case in all countries. Since we know all people have some genes which predispose to disease, it is important that the Australian life insurance industry does not deter people from learning about their genetic risks,” she says.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer for men and women in Australia. One in every 3,000 Australians carry a genetic mutation that places them at high risk of bowel cancer.

“For those at high genetic risk, screening for and removal of polyps reduces the risk of bowel cancer by more than 50 percent,” says Associate Professor Mark Jenkins of the University of Melbourne’s School of Population Health and senior author on the paper.

“Insurance-related apprehension about genetic testing could have troubling public health consequences. Screening people at high genetic risk of bowel cancer is a highly cost effective way to reduce deaths due to bowel cancer,” he says.

Dr Louise Keogh says that now that we know insurance policies are adversely affecting health decision-making, it is time to act.

“We call on the Federal Government and the Australian insurance industry to look at what other countries have done and reconsider the use of genetic information where genetic testing has the potential to reduce morbidity and mortality,” she says.

People with a strong family history of bowel cancer and concerned about the possibility of having inherited a high risk can obtain a referral from a GP to visit a Family Cancer Clinic.

University of Melbourne Professor George Patton from the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children’s Hospital will present preliminary findings of research into adolescents and obesity at the Obesity Forum 2009 at Federation Square at 4pm today.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has today received Australia’s first National Preventative Health Strategy from Committee Chair, Professor Rob Moodie of the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne.

The 307 page report includes a broad range of recommendations to be implemented in three stages until 2020, to reduce the burden of obesity, alcohol and tobacco on Australian’s health and wellbeing.

In total, the overall cost to the healthcare system associated with these three risk factors is in the order of almost $6 billion per year, while lost productivity is estimated to be almost $13 billion.

“This is the first ever National Preventative Health Strategy – providing the Government with a road map of guidelines to address these significant health issues,” says Professor Moodie.

‘The Strategy provides recommendations to firstly establish volunteer approaches to educate and change community behaviour before introducing regulatory, pricing and taxation approaches. This is the best opportunity we have had in a generation to significantly improve the health of Australians, “he says.

“Implementation is the key, but it must be implemented over several phases.”

“This requires progressive, comprehensive, and determined action over the next ten years. We must not let up. We must not sit on our hands.”

“This is the key role of the new proposed National Prevention Agency which will be established in early 2010.  It endorses progressive, comprehensive, determined and sustained action, “he says.

Recommendations include strategies that address:

Obesity
• Environmental planning and active transport; Working with food industry to encourage healthier food composition;  encouraging physical activity and better provision of information in workplaces, schools and to specific groups including pregnant women, low income and disadvantaged groups including Indigenous communities
• Phase out the marketing of food and beverage products aimed at children before 9 p.m. on free-to-air and Pay TV, and phase out premium offers, toys, competitions and the use of promotional characters.
Tobacco
• Increasing the price of cigarettes; major public education campaigns including reducing risk of passive smoking by children and halting all promotion of tobacco products including adopting plain packaging.

Alcohol
• Changing the way Australia grants, manages and enforces liquor licences;  changing the drinking culture; communication of information; phasing out alcohol promotions and advertising to young people ; establishing better pricing and taxation to encourage the consumption of less risky alcohol products
Professor Moodie is available for live TV interviews today via the University’s DVN line.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has today received Australia’s first National Preventative Health Strategy from Committee Chair, Professor Rob Moodie of the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne.

The key gene that determines sex in birds has been discovered by researchers at the University of Melbourne, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI) and CSIRO, as published online in the prestigious journal Nature.

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