Pre-conditions of well-being

The interest of the Royal Society of Queensland in community health dates back to the foundation of its predecessor Philosophical Society of Queensland in 1859. The first paper in its Transactions was on asphyxia, the second on ventilation of buildings. Other early papers covered public sanitation and the water supply for Brisbane. The scope of the Society’s activities has always been the gathering of evidence-led knowledge and application of scientific method, tools that are central to the challenges facing community health.

In 2018, business consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers agreed to sponsor three events examining the preconditions of health. The deliberations will contribute to a model for preventative health that incorporates the latest evidence from biomedicine, the social sciences and public administration.

The model will be built up incrementally from 1 January 2024 on the following pages:

On 13 November 2023 the Royal Societies of Australia discussed the prospect of broadening the scope of this project to national. Watch this space! Contact for further information or to contribute.

Pre-conditions of health in remote and Indigenous communities – Brisbane 20 February 2019

A thoroughly inspiring lunchtime forum and roundtable featured expert panellists:

Local Indigenous identity Dr Janet Hammill gave an acknowledgement of country.

How do biophysical factors such as nutrition, exercise and childhood exposure to toxins interact with sociological factors such as family upbringing, schooling and societal norms? For example, does poor diet – difficult to avoid in remote settlements – lead to poor life skills, or does causation run the other way? Which conditions for healthy living are essential and which are derivative? Is it even possible to answer these questions? This free discussion produced valuable insights into these questions.The Society is on track to build the findings from all three events along with background research into a consolidated model for delivery of preventative health, by 31 March 2019.

The disadvantage of youth – Brisbane 9 August 2018

Can teenagers reasonably be held accountable for their actions?

Are we all born equal? How early in life (or in the womb) is our life trajectory set? Are poor life skills the product of our upbringing, or genetically predetermined? What factors most dispose teenagers to end in gaol? Which preconditions of ill health in young people are most fundamental and most ripe for remedial investment? Does out-of-home care lead youngsters to an unstable, unhealthy life or do behavioural problems lead to separation from family?

No one disputes that human behaviour is conditioned by factors pre-determined at birth, by factors determined by upbringing and by free choices made by people capable of rational thought and agency. How relatively powerful are the pre-natal and early childhood factors? The answer determines whether dysfunctional behaviour should be seen as primarily a health problem or a criminal justice problem.

Keynote speaker

Dr Malcolm McDonald Consultant Physician and Senior Clinical Research Fellow, Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention, James Cook University: “They Grow Up!” , with appended references.


Sarah Amos, Director of Economics and Policy, PwC on managing welfare spend;

Kate Tillack, Research Officer, CREATE Foundation on the connections between out-of-home care and youth justice;

Toni Craig, Youth Justice Strategy, Department of Child Safety, Youth & Women and Churchill Fellow, on factors contributing to involvement of children in the criminal justice system.


Click here for the provisional Program. Click here for a summary of the presentations and discussion.

The Child Health Research Centre, University of Queensland, organised a seminar on foetal alcohol on 7 September 2018. The slide presentations with their experimental evidence will build into the Society’s model. The Society acknowledges with thanks permission from the Child Health Research Centre to reproduce this material.

Chronic disease: Prevention or patch-up? – Brisbane 26 March 2018

Which preconditions of good health or ill health are most fundamental and most ripe for remedial investment? Is smoking, poor diet, parasite load, socio-economic disadvantage, discrimination, poor education or lack of exercise most likely to influence health at population scale? Which investments in health work best and what are the relative costs of not making them?

A forum aiming to bridge science and policy in preventative health was held in Brisbane on 26 March 2018. It was sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global professional services firm having the purpose of building trust in society and solving important problems.

The preparatory flyer describes the venue and logistics. All attendees are encouraged to complete an evaluation form.



Keynote presenter was Professor Robyn McDermott MBBS, MPH, PhD, FAFPHM, Professor of Public Health Medicine, Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention, Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, James Cook University Cairns.

Four discussants opened a roundtable session:

  • Ms Kaye Pulsford, Executive Director, Preventive Health, Queensland Department of Health, Prevention or cure.
  • Ms Angi Bissell, Director, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, A snapshot of the health system.
  • Dr Heather Douglas, sociologist and Adjunct at the University of Queensland, “Alternative ways to improve health”.
  • Dr Geoff Edwards, President of the Royal Society of Queensland, Identifying reliable evidence (on scientific method).

Reference materials

The attendees agreed that a submission should be made to the Queensland Government presenting an evidence-based model for minimising chronic disease. Source materials for use in compiling this submission will be added here progressively.

The Australian Health Prevention Centre has provided a list of relevant source materials .

Community health – Cairns May 2016

A KEEN AUDIENCE of practitioners and experts in community health gathered in Cairns on 30 May to debate where investment in health should be directed to add the greatest value.

The audience heard that children who consume sweet drinks program their bodies towards lifelong obesity, type II diabetes and a range of other chronic disorders.

After five most excellent presentations and a roundtable debate, a strong consensus emerged that a sugar levy should be placed upon sugary soft drinks and fruit juices, with the revenue to be spent on personalised health education.

The culprits are not just sugar-laden soft drinks, but also cordials, fruit juices and junk foods generally. The human body is not by nature adapted to digesting refined sugar: in traditional life, sweets such as honey would have been a rare treat, not a daily substitute for meals.

Presentations and other papers arising from the event:

Where are we spending vs where we need to spend to improve health? Prof Robyn McDermott.

Peripheral artery disease and exercise. Dr Jonathan Golledge.

A cross-portfolio view of health. Dr Emily Callander. (The slides are accompanied by narration – 24MB).

The event was generously sponsored by the Australian Institute for Tropical Health and Medicine. The proposal for a sugar levy is not necessarily endorsed by the Society or the Institute.

The Royal Society delivered a summary of the presentations and findings to the Queensland Government.