In ‘From Norm to Eric: avoiding lifestyle drift in Australian health policy’ Fran Baum makes similar points to those in our editorial but she does so in elegant language, pointing out that large lifestyle campaigns have had little impact on population health but remain popular because they are consistent with the individualistic focus of neo-liberal political philosophy. More effective, but less politically palatable, are programs that address the social determinants of health, including housing, employment and education.
Infant male circumcision has recently been promoted as a surgical vaccine against HIV infection. In ‘Not a surgical vaccine: there is no case for boosting infant male circumcision to combat heterosexual transmission of HIV in Australia’, Robert Darby and Robert Van Howe dissect the practice against the background of Australian health policy, evidence from the scientific literature and practicality. They point to doubt about effectiveness, amplified in the case of Australia. There are ethical and human rights reasons for rejecting this practice.
A regular section in this Journal is devoted to methodological rigour and in this Issue we address data quality. In ‘Accuracy of national mortality codes in identifying adjudicated cardiovascular deaths’, Linton Harriss and colleagues take us carefully through the process of checking causes of death, dissecting the sensitivity and specificity of national mortality codes. They conclude that national mortality coding underestimated cardiovascular and stroke deaths in the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study (1990–2002). Misclassification of cause of death could undermine epidemiological research.