Behavioural Science and Prevention

The Behavioural Science and Prevention Unit undertakes research concerning the behavioural, social, organisational and environmental determinants of health, and the effectiveness of strategies put in place to modify these factors and improve health outcomes.  The work of the unit is primarily focused on chronic diseases and their prevention, with an emphasis upon interventions in health care and community settings. In addition to competitively funded research, the unit has a track record of working with industry partners to undertake high quality program evaluation to enable evidence generation and learning from practice.


Unit Head
Associate Professor Ben Smith

Dr Tilahun Haregu
Cassandra De Lacy-Vawdon
Tracy Nau

PhD students
Sarah Carmody
Ruth Klein
Ebenezer Owusu-Addo
Joanna Schwarzman

Current projects

Evaluation in health promotion: gathering evidence to improve effectiveness

Investigators: A/Prof Ben Smith, Prof Adrian Bauman, Prof Chris Rissel, Prof Trevor Shilton
Funding: ARC Discovery Project  

Effective disease prevention and health promotion to address the public health challenges facing Australia requires a strong evidence base for policy and practice. Evaluation of programs in natural contexts is a vital source of this evidence, valuable for improving strategy design and delivery, building sustainability and guiding funding. This mixed-methods study is examining evaluation practices and the use of evaluation findings by government and non-government health promotion agencies across Australia. This findings will guide efforts to build capacity for evaluation, improve systems for organisational learning, and enable evidence gathering to improve effectiveness.

Pilot study of an mHealth strategy to improve the prevention and management of high blood pressure in general practice

Investigators: A/Prof Ben Smith, Dr Alice Owen, Prof Danielle Mazza
Funding: National Heart Foundation Vanguard Grant

This project is trialling a practical strategy that GPs can use to actively follow-up and support patients with elevated blood pressure in order to reduce the problem of undiagnosed and unmanaged high blood pressure, a leading contributor to cardiovascular disease in Australia. An innovative health promotion strategy is being developed for delivery via smartphone, addressing both health behaviours and adherence to blood pressure medicines. The project is enrolling 45-49 year old patients who are at an age when the prevalence of high blood pressure starts to rise, and who are eligible for a Medicare-funded health assessment.

Harnessing recreational infrastructure to improve physical activity and community well-being: MOVE Frankston study

Investigators: A/Prof Ben Smith, Prof Michael Ewing, Dr Fiona Newton, Prof Rob Donovan, Prof Adrian Bauman, Prof Ajay Mahal, Brice Mackay
Funding: ARC Linkage Project

Physical inactivity is prevalent in Australia and is a significant contributor to the nation’s burden of chronic disease. Increasing the availability of recreational infrastructure may positively influence levels of physical activity. This study, conducted in partnership with Frankston City Council, is investigating the impact that establishing a major recreational and aquatic centre has upon physical activity and measures of well-being in the community. In addition to being a natural experiment, the study includes a randomised controlled trial to test the impact of low intensity social marketing strategies to boost centre usage.

SMART phones for SMART mums - A pilot interactive smart phone program to improve healthcare following gestational diabetes

Investigators: Prof N Wah Cheung, A/Prof Ben Smith, Dr Aravinda Thiagalingam, A/Prof Julie Redfern, Prof Clara Chow
Funding: Australian Diabetes Society

This randomised controlled trial is recruiting women who develop gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), with the intervention being conducted in the 6 months postpartum. The intervention makes use of interactive mobile phone messaging, along with a wearable activity monitor, supported by individual consultations with a health counsellor.  The main outcomes to be analysed are the proportion of women meeting dietary and physical activity guidelines, and change in weight at 6-8 months postpartum. If successful, this model would support diabetes prevention programs for women following GDM, particularly those in remote or regional settings.

Changing the media diet - Investigating the power of the news media to prevent obesity

Investigators: Dr Catriona Bonfiglioli, Prof Simon Chapman, A/Prof Ben Smith
Funding: Australian Research Council Discovery Grant

The mass media are recognised as a key factor in promoting health but the role of newsmakers, news reports and news audiences in the prevention of obesity is poorly understood. This project is the first to generate evidence from the whole media life cycle: journalists’ professional practice, news messages and media debates about causes of and solutions to obesity, and public understandings. Evidence is being gathered through analysis of media content, interviews with journalists and producers, and interviews and surveys with audience members. The findings will inform health promoting interventions for health professionals, news professionals, the news media and the public.

Facilitating organised physical activity by disadvantaged older people

Investigators: A/Prof Ben Smith, Tracy Nau, Genevieve Nolan, Renee de Silva
Funding: MOVE muscle bone and joint health

This study is being undertaken to gather evidence that can be used to improve the design of physical activity programs, and the capacity of activity providers, to achieve higher levels of program participation by disadvantaged and underrepresented older people. Those of primary interest in this study are people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, have a disability, are from a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) background, or are socially isolated. Data are being collected through in-depth interviews with program providers and focus groups with older people from diverse social and cultural backgrounds. The findings will assist the ongoing work on the Victorian Active Ageing Partnership, a major initiative of the Victorian Government to increase physical activity participation by older people.

Health assessment of older people prior to their participation in organised physical activity

Investigators: A/Prof Ben Smith, Genevieve Nolan, Renee de Silva, Ebenezer Owusu-Addo
Funding:  Victorian Department of Health and Human Services

Anecdotal evidence suggests there is wide variation in practice in the health assessment of older people prior to their participation in organised physical activity. Concern exists that such health assessment (e.g., pre-exercise screening and/or medical clearance) may act as a barrier to participation. This research entails a review of published literature, a survey of providers of physical activity programs for older people, and interviews with program participants to assess the impacts and practical challenges entailed in pre-exercise screening and medical clearance. This data will inform recommendations for future practice in the health assessment of older people prior to   organised physical activity in Victoria.


Staff members in the Unit coordinate teaching in the following undergraduate and postgraduate units:

  • HSC2300 Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
  • HSC3061 Health Program Evaluation
  • MPH5002 Foundations of Health Promotion and Program Planning
  • MPH5022 Evaluation Public Health Programs

Short courses

The Unit manages the Monash Health Promotion Short Course that is offered several times per year at the Monash Conference Centre in Melbourne, and at other venues by request.

For further details please see