Healthy Families NZ a promising approach

Dr Mat Walton and Dr Anna Matheson from the School of Health Sciences.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says an interim evaluation of the Healthy Families NZ initiative has found it is helping communities around the country to make healthy changes.

The Interim Evaluation Report was commissioned by the Ministry of Health and produced by Massey University researchers, Dr Anna Matheson and Dr Mat Walton, from the School of Health Sciences. It is available on the Ministry of Health website here.
Dr Coleman says, “Healthy Families NZ is about encouraging people to live healthier lives by making good food choices, being physically active, moderating alcohol consumption and being smoke-free.
“The initiative challenges communities to think differently about how to address the underlying causes of poor health. It’s about thinking bigger, driving innovation, and creating good health in the places where we spend our time – early childhood education, schools, workplaces, sports clubs, marae and other community settings.”
Dr Coleman says the interim evaluation has found it is a promising approach which has been implemented with integrity to its intention and purpose. 
“The initiative is well underway to strengthening our prevention system, and increasing the numbers of health promoting environments where people live, learn, work and play. 
“Enabling and supporting Māori leadership is an integral part of Healthy Families NZ. The report finds that the design of the initiative has allowed local responsiveness and ensured Māori are prioritised.   
“As a result of the initiative, we’re starting to see a number of positive changes happening in communities around the country.” 

Dr Walton says while sharing the goal of creating healthier environments, an important part of the design of the initiative is that communities are able to adapt it to their own circumstances.

“Taking a systems change approach to health has been the focus of research for us for over a decade. Internationally we see increasing interest in taking a systems approach to improving healthier social environments. Healthy Families NZ is one of the few large-scale examples of putting this theory into practice. Dr Matheson and I believe the Interim Evaluation Report provides some useful lessons for using this Systems Thinking approach.”
Healthy Families NZ is operating in ten locations; Far North, Waitakere, Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura, Rotorua, East Cape, Whanganui, Lower Hutt, Christchurch, and Invercargill. 
Across these regions, the initiative has the potential to impact the lives of over one million New Zealanders. 
Healthy Families NZ is being supported by an annual investment of $10 million. 
The design of these evaluations is to provide an ongoing assessment of the initiative with the next evaluation due in mid-2018. 

Key findings

-      The report finds that Healthy Families NZ has been implemented with integrity to its intention and purpose, and is a promising approach;

-      Enabling Māori ownership and leadership is an integral part of the Healthy Families NZ approach, and the design of Healthy Families NZ ensures Māori are prioritised;

-      The organisational contexts of the 10 lead provider organisations that Healthy Families NZ locations are housed in (Councils, Regional Sports Trusts, and iwi organisations) are an important and positive element of the Healthy Families NZ approach;

-      Recruitment of the Healthy Families NZ workforce within Lead Provider organisations has been successfully achieved. The workforce is well supported and engaged;

-      Healthy Families NZ has involved a new way of contracting by the Ministry with a systems focus geared towards a more adaptive approach. This reflects a different relationship model and overall the report finds the different relationships between the funder (the Ministry) and lead providers have been largely positive and included mechanisms for responding in a timely manner to both opportunities and challenges;

-      The report highlights the role of community leadership. Healthy Families NZ locations have formed Strategic Leadership Groups comprising of leaders with strong spheres of influence across a multitude of sectors and settings including local government, iwi, Pacific, sports and recreation, business and health who are supporting, driving and influencing healthy change in their communities.  

An article on the evaluation has also today been published in the Journal of Public Health.

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