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Health Futures Australia: responding to Australia's obesity crisis

Reos Partners
October, 2016


Learn how Health Futures Australia, a multi-year, system-wide collaboration platform, is proactively tackling and reversing Australia's obesity crisis.


Obesity is a ticking time bomb in Australia, at present 1 in 4 (25%) children and almost 2 in 3 (63%) adults are now overweight or obese. These rates are continuing to rise with obesity among adults having almost tripled in the last two decades. Obesity has lifelong impacts on health and wellbeing and is a major risk factor for many diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers. Obesity reduces people’s life expectancy and quality of life and is associated with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. This results in a significant burden to the Australian economy, estimated at $56.6 billion in 2005. In Victoria alone, it is estimated that obesity costs $19.8 billion each year, with $1.2 billion of this attributed to lost productivity. These costs are borne by individuals, governments, businesses and society.

According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute (November 2014) and the World Health Organisation’s Global database, obesity is one of the top three social burdens created by human beings with an estimated cost of $2 trillion globally.


To tackle the obesity crisis, we must take a different path. We require resources, creativity, courage, expertise and most importantly engagement of stakeholders from across the whole system. Government has an important role to play – as does the corporate and community sector and health services, but no single organisation can solve this crisis alone. Together we have the opportunity to make a substantial impact: the environments that will increase physical activity; food production, availability, accessibility and consumption systems; and broader social influences on obesity such as product marketing.

Health Futures Australia (HFA) has been established to work with the public, private, philanthropic and community sectors to tackle obesity through meaningful and joint action. Teaming with Reos Partners, we aim to create a unique, long-term platform dedicated to the prevention of chronic disease and to the building of a healthy society. Our premise is that together we have created obesity, so together we must reverse it.


Health Futures Australia is a unique and innovative platform for the primary prevention of chronic disease. We provide a collaborative and creative space for leaders and teams to openly explore and innovate in order to create transformational improvements to the health of Australians.

HFA is designed as a multi-year, system-wide collaboration platform for making substantive positive impacts in the prevention of chronic disease in Australia. Over time we will tackle the multiple complex chronic disease challenges that are impacting the wellbeing and lives of millions of Australians.

In collaboration with Reos Partners, a group of organisations and individuals are working together to facilitate community and market-based solutions to the obesity crisis. Our team has been designing and facilitating system change initiatives across community, health, environment, climate, and food sustainability for over 20 years. We have established a network of people and a set of rigorous and transformative methods to redesign the way we address the complex challenge of obesity with you.

Using a pragmatic and creative approach we bring together corporations, governments, communities and civil society organisations to reverse obesity – one of the world’s most pressing issues. We enable people mired in complexity, confusion and overwhelmed by the scale and scope of the problem to work together to construct new realities and act for a healthier Australia.

The challenge

Obesity is a complex social problem and solving it is not easy. There are many stakeholders with different opinions on both cause and solution. Obesity is interconnected with many other societal issues. Most confronting is that obesity is now a norm in our society, and changing norms, values and culture calls on an effort which resembles that of a revolution. It can feel too hard to have any impact or too big of a problem to make sense of, therefore we normalise it or look for silver bullets as the solution. These, often single interventions have next to no sustainable impact. Often we wait for someone, usually governments, to act. Meanwhile the crisis and its impact continue to grow at unprecedented rates.

We are creating a unique national, multi-stakeholder platform for proactively tackling and reversing the obesity crisis in Australia.


Building Health Futures Scenarios

Building Health Futures Scenarios aims to explore the possible health futures for Australia, in light of the current obesity crisis.

We bring together different people and teams to explore the possible futures of health in Australia over the next 20-30 years. We convene diverse coalitions of leaders who represent a strategic microcosm of the health system. We provide a unique, collaborative and creative space for leaders and teams to openly, safely and deeply explore and innovate. We will develop 3-4 useful scenarios that capture the imagination and challenge the thinking of decision makers and influencers across Australia. Developing transformative scenarios for the future is a helpful sense-making tool to enable diverse actors to discover what they can and must do individually and collectively in order to transform the situation.

Health Innovation Labs – corporations and businesses, hospitals, health services, and communities

Health Innovation Labs aim to engage different stakeholder groups across the system to more deeply understand the causal drivers impacting obesity and prototype and design whole system actions to tackle obesity at the level of individual, group, community and broader society.

We work with diverse groups of corporations and businesses, hospitals, health services and community members across Victoria to decrease and reverse obesity trends in a systemic way. We seek out people who care about the health of Australians and want to make transformative improvements in obesity. A social lab methodology is applied which flexibly allows for multiple events, processes, and multi-year experiments.

We provide a creative and collaborative space or “container” to safely and openly explore and innovate together in order to create transformational health improvements. We work with you to identify leverage points for maximum transformational impact. Then, working creatively using rapid prototyping techniques, we develop and incubate ideas into workable experiments for trial. We tap into the expertise and creativity of the sector and stakeholders to experiment and create concepts that can be scaled up as solutions to reverse obesity.

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