Wednesday, March 16, 2022

How living near Sydney’s green spaces makes you healthier and happier

This is an old claim but the evidence for it is slight. The actual research studies done routinely fail to use adequate socio-economic controls. "Green" suburbs are desirable so cost more. But the rich people who move there are healthier anyway. That rich people are healthier is probably the best replicated finding in epidemiology

How green is your valley? If you live somewhere in Sydney that has access to parks, trees, fresh air, good food and walkable streets, it’s odds on that you’ll be healthier, fitter and will live to a grand old age.

If, however, you’re trapped somewhere with little greenery, lots of pollution and have to hop in a car and fight traffic jams to get anywhere you want to go, then, sorry, but precisely the opposite is likely to be true.

“There is now so much evidence and research done on how access to the natural environment is good for both our physical and mental health,” says Dr Nicky Morrison, professor of planning at the Western Sydney University and one of the leading academic authorities on the subject.

“There’s also a lot of research on how we change the built environment to deliver resilient, healthy and sustainable communities. But there are many barriers to this all along the way, with local government having limited capacity and competing priorities, and state government wanting to deliver housing – often at the expense of public open space.”

Yet, there’s a growing realisation throughout most cities in the world that quality green open space isn’t merely an aesthetic adornment to the urban environment, it’s an absolute necessity.

The accessibility within cities to green spaces has been found to have numerous benefits, says Morrison, including increasing overall well-being and quality of life, fitness, cognitive ability, productivity, imaginative powers, creativity and spiritual vitality, and decreasing obesity, stress, the effects of ageing, sickness and mental health issues.

There’s evidence, too, that regular engagement with green spaces is linked with longevity, and the healing power of nature has hugely positive impacts on physical strength, socialisation and mental ill-health.

Meanwhile, the experience of living with the COVID-19 pandemic and local lockdowns has only strengthened the attraction of having open green areas in neighbourhoods, or the lure of further afield.

A new report on NSW, Making Healthy Places, by researchers from the University of NSW City Futures Research Centre and the southwest Sydney local health unit, led by Dr Nicky Morrison, shows that the built environment can positively impact the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities.

Where you live, it found, shapes how easy it is to buy healthy food, use active transport, and make social connections. Survey participants said the most important aspects of healthy place-making were in enabling active lifestyles, with walkability to shops, schools and work most important. They also said that increasing access to natural environments and opportunities for social interaction were vital for their mental health.

The main issue it identified was how to go about creating more open green places that help deliver positive health and wellbeing outcomes for all.

“We are all much more aware now of the importance of green spaces in our cities,” says professor Susan Thompson, professor of planning and associate director of City Futures. “I’ve been working in this space for a long, long time now, and we’ve been advocating for a more comprehensive and holistic policy towards green spaces that will keep people healthy and well through the course of their lives.


Top Australian doctor has rubbished Pfizer's promotion of fourth Covid jab

A leading Australian doctor has slammed Pfizer's call for a fourth Covid jab, saying the company should use its staggering profits to provide vaccines for developing countries.

Dr Nick Coatsworth, who fronted the Government's vaccine rollout campaign, said Pfizer should 'stop doing press releases about how we need a fourth dose' and tackle other more pressing issues.

'How about you really surprise us and provide pneumococcal vaccine at cost to low income nations. Be like Astra,' the former deputy chief medical officer tweeted on Tuesday.

Pfizer raked in a record $US37billion in revenue from its Covid vaccine in 2021 making it one of the most lucrative products ever.

The United States based drug-maker's overall revenue doubled to $81.3billion and is forecasting a even bigger 2022, which will also see the release of its Covid pill Paxlovid.

'The CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, has come out on two occasions talking about how we need a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine, the CEO of Moderna has done it as well,' he told Dr Coatsworth told

'It’s a problem because you don’t listen to the person who’s responsible for shareholder profits if they tell you to take a drug.'

In stark contrast, vaccine competitor AstraZeneca announced early on in 2020 it would not seek to profit from a Covid vaccine while the pandemic was in effect, only recently moving to a profit-based model.

Covid vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and other manufacturers have saved millions of lives worldwide with Pfizer's CEO claiming the outlook of the company had shifted.

'We are proud to say we have delivered both the first FDA-authorised vaccine against Covid-19 (with our partner, BioNTech) and the first FDA-authorised oral treatment for Covid-19,' Albert Boula said earlier this year.

'These successes have not only made a positive difference in the world, but I believe they have fundamentally changed Pfizer and its culture for ever.'

And yet the company has been criticised for keeping a tight grip on the recipe for its Covid vaccines and not supplying them at reduced cost to developing countries.

'Pfizer is now richer than most countries; it has made more than enough money from this crisis. It's time to suspend intellectual property and break vaccine monopolies,' Tim Bierley, from Global Justice Now told The Guardian last month.

Dr Coatsworth said Covid vaccines weren't the only ones that the pharma giant could provide to needy nations.

'[Pfizer's CEO] has on two occasions talked about how we need a fourth dose, the CEO of Moderna has done it as well... You don't listen to the person who's responsible for shareholder profits if they tell you to take a drug,' Dr Coatsworth said.

He said given Pfizer's massive revenue it could be a 'good corporate citizen' and subsidised its vaccines for low income countries.

'They don't do that and haven't done it for 20 years... It would be a simple and effective action... Pneumococcal disease is a bigger problem than Covid,' he said.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by any infection from Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, which can cause pneumonia, meningitis, and blood infection.

The World Health Organization estimates 300,000 children under five die from the infection each year - mostly in poor countries - despite a vaccine being developed 20 years ago.

Dr Coatsworth said Pfizer could easily save lives by using some of its Covid profits to subsidise the vaccine for this disease in those countries - where its cost of up to $21 a dose can make it unaffordable.

Competitor Moderna said on Monday it would set up a manufacturing facility in Kenya, its first in Africa, to produce messenger mRNA vaccines.

The company said it expects to invest about $500million in the Kenyan facility and supply as many as 500 million doses to the continent each year.

Africa has lagged sharply behind other regions in vaccinating its citizens through the pandemic and there have been several efforts in recent months to help the continent produce its own vaccines.

'Kenya and the entire continent of Africa went through challenges in the earlier stages of this pandemic that resulted in Africa being left behind,' Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

The World Health Organization last year set up a tech transfer hub in South Africa to give poorer nations the know-how to produce Covid-19 vaccines and has been trying to get Moderna and Pfizer to join in its efforts.

However, in September, a senior WHO official said there had not been much progress in talks with Moderna.

WHO-backed South Africa's Afrigen Biologics said in February it would produce its own version of Moderna's shot. While Moderna said it would not enforce any intellectual property or patent rights, it has not yet volunteered assistance.

BioNTech, which teamed up with Pfizer to make the western world's most widely-used Covid-19 job, has also announced plans to begin work on its mRNA manufacturing facility in the African Union this year.

Moderna's COVID vaccine brought in $17.7 billion in sales in 2021 and has been cleared for use in over 70 countries.


High school students LOSE climate change court case against the environment minister after demanding she block a coal mine to 'save the future'

A legal decision finding the Australian government owes the country's children protection from harm caused by climate change has been overturned by a court.

The full bench of the Federal Court on Tuesday morning unanimously ruled in favour of an appeal by the Environment Minister Sussan Ley, reversing a decision by a previous judge.

Eight high school students took Ms Ley to court in 2020, seeking to block the expansion of a coal mine that is expected to produce an additional 100 million tonnes of carbon emissions.

Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg in May 2021 knocked back their bid to stop the expansion, but he did rule that Ms Ley has a duty of reasonable care to not cause the children personal injury when exercising her legislative decision-making powers regarding the mine. It was lauded as a landmark win that would open an avenue for legal challenges to the government's future decisions on coal projects.

However, Ms Ley soon after announced she would appeal the finding, and on Tuesday the full Federal Court bench - Justices James Allsop, Jonathan Beach and Michael Wheelahan - ruled in her favour. All agreed a legal duty of care should not be imposed, but the judges varied in their reasons.

Chief Justice James Allsop concluded that decisions about mining approvals belonging to the executive arm of government - ministers of the day - not the judiciary.

Ms Ley also had control over only a tiny contribution to global carbon emissions, he said. 'The lack of proportionality between the tiny increase in risk and lack of control, and the liability for all damaged by heatwaves, bushfires and rising sea levels ... into the future, mean that the duty ... should not be imposed.'

Chief Justice Allsop did, however, note the considerable evidence demonstrating the dangers to humanity that climate change presents was not challenged. 'None of the evidence was disputed,' he said.

'There was no cross examination of any witness brought by the applicants by those acting for the minister and there was no contrary or qualifying evidence,' he said.

Lawyers acting for the group of children now have the option to appeal that decision in the High Court.


School principals hounded out by violent parents and students

Violence, burnout and “brutal’’ workloads will push school principals to quit in record numbers this year, a study shows.

Four out of 10 principals were exposed to violence in schools last year, with some punched or pushed by angry parents, or injured breaking up schoolyard fights.

Escalating violence and stress in schools is exposed in the latest Australian Principal Occupational Health and Wellbeing Survey of 2590 principals and deputy principals, which is carried out each year by Australian Catholic University researchers.

Workloads worsened during the pandemic, with principals and their deputies working 55-hour weeks, on average, as they devoted more time to dealing with pandemic planning and students’ mental health problems.

The research shows 39 per cent of school leaders were exposed to workplace violence in schools last year – 10 times higher than the general population. Some 7 per cent of principals were threatened with assault by parents and 37 per cent by students.

“At this rate, half of all school leaders will endure physical violence by 2025,’’ ACU investigator and former principal Paul Kidson said on Monday. “Principals have to deal with students who are fighting one another – if three or four students are belting one another up and they have to get in the middle to break up the fight, they’re exposed to violence.

“I’ve even had to break up parent scuffles in the carpark.’’

Dr Kidson said the survey found principals had “brutal’’ workloads and worked an average of 23 hours a week during school holidays. A record one in 12 principals intends to retire early this year, as school leaders report the highest level of mental burnout since the survey began in 2011.

“The system is broken and on its knees,’’ one NSW public high school principal said.

“(There is) an unsustainable workload, poor working conditions (and) a significant increase in students and their families presenting with complex problems that schools do not have the resources to manage effectively.’’

Australian Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Pierpoint said he had been “roughed up’’ by a former student 10 years ago.

“The young fellow came into the school – I don’t know why he was aggrieved or if there was substance abuse – but I asked him to leave the school grounds, calm down and then come back,’’ Mr Pier­point said. “He lunged forward and punched me in the head – that really rattled me for a while.

“There are plenty of women who’ve been attacked by students or parents,” he added.

Mr Pierpoint said increasing violence, as well as the pandemic, had made life “close to intolerable’’ for some principals. A third of principals reported being cyberbullied, and 45 per cent were victims of gossip and slander.

“It’s not just physical bullying; I know of a principal who had his face superimposed on a known pedophile’s body and circulated among the community,’’ Mr Pierpoint said. “He and his family had to pack up and leave town.’’

Mr Pierpoint said principals were also having to deal daily with students distraught over bushfires, floods, domestic violence and Covid-19 outbreaks.

Australian Primary School Principals Association president Malcolm Elliott said he had been “threatened so many times I’ve lost count’’.

“I’ve witnessed a principal who was punched in the face by a high school student,’’ he said.

“The student’s parents and relatives drove into the carpark, then a carload of people got out and egged on the student as he punched the principal.

“Principals are being man­handled and hit, injured and having objects thrown at them.

“We’re not talking about children throwing a rubber – just recently, one principal was hit on the head with a sizeable rock.”




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