By her own admission Magda Szubanski is one of the most unlikely hosts for a show about our health.
She has had her very public battles with diet culture and weight and is addressing her underlying health conditions.
But this also gives his skin in the game, something personally at stake, which is not so evident in the shows of the excellent Dr. Michael Mosely and co.
Her presentation style is also very frank, sprinkled with her trademark humor, making her a pretty effective tool to convey a message: We need to do much, much better at monitoring our health.
The statistics are scary. One in two Australians suffers from at least one long-term (or chronic) illness. 94 out of 100 children do not eat enough fruit and vegetables. All this despite a world-class healthcare system in a fortunate country. I already feel guilty.
In the first of the three Magda’s big national health check episodes, Magda meets VicHealth CEO Sandro Demaio, who places the blame on a lack of physical activity coupled with too much junk food all around us. Make no mistake, the fast food franchises (especially the Golden Arches) aren’t having a good run this episode.
In fact, where you live can also impact your chances of addressing health. Visiting the Australian Urban Observatory (which sounds like something James Stewart would have promoted Back window), Magda learns that access to the suburbs and facilities all contribute to maintenance: green spaces, hospitals, distance from supermarkets, cycle paths, etc. News flash… bad news for the suburbs.
Access to healthcare in rural areas is particularly low, but a visit to Mansfield, north-east Melbourne, shows how one community is coping. Not only by refusing entry to a local fast food chain, the city has taken steps to reverse its poor childhood nutrition record. Community fixes include a local fresh fruit drive, free exercise classes, a weekly fun run, and free citywide heart checkups.
This leads to a confrontational diagnosis for Szubanski herself, who admits, “It’s better to hear than not to know.” With knowledge comes informed decisions and the ability to reverse…
Episode one also takes aim at messages of junk food for children, Indigenous health and an emergency for our host, a.k.a. ‘National Treasure’. Our trusty host, carrying a backpack that I kept wondering what was in it, cuts through the science and keeps the message personal.
Szubanksi has several decades of being a favorite Australian artist and has become more politically active in recent years, particularly during the same-sex marriage debate. For such activism she has also been heavily targeted on social media, which no doubt plays a role in her own mental health. She attributes some of her fighting spirit to her late mother.
But unlike some media personalities, she’s not afraid to acknowledge her weaknesses, using her celebrity superpowers for good rather than evil. Not everyone would be so sincere about letting cameras follow them into medical clinics, hospitals, and their own homes. But Szubanski knows that a greater good is at stake here.
I guess if the doco series helps save one life, or adds more years on the planet for another, it will be worth it.
Magda’s Big National Health Check airs Tuesdays at 8:30 pm on ABC.