eISSN: 2450-5722
ISSN: 2450-5927
Journal of Health Inequalities
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vol. 5
Letter to the Editor

John William Powles obituary (1943-2018)

Carol Brayne
Hebe Gouda

Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, UK
World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
J Health Inequal 2019; 5 (1): 115-116
Online publish date: 2019/07/31
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Dr John William Powles passed away on 15 September 2018. John grew up in rural Australia, in the Riverina region of New South Wales (NSW), and studied Medicine at the University of Sydney.
At University, John was a keen advocate for social justice. He founded the Sydney University Humanist Society, which was involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In 1965 he was the Vice-President of the group ‘Student Action for Aborigines’ (SAFA), led by Charlie Perkins, the first aboriginal student to graduate from Sydney University. The group organised the ‘SAFA bus tour’, also known as the ‘Freedom Ride’, around regional New South Wales, modelled on civil rights actions in the United States. That helped to prompt public debate on racism and had influence on aboriginal rights recognition.
In 1966, John’s interest in global cultures took him on a study tour to China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, with a group of other young Australians and New Zealanders. John graduated from Sydney University in 1968. After his training as a junior doctor in Sydney, he married his first wife, Margaret Fisher, and travelled to the UK, where he remained for four years as a research fellow at the Centre for Social Research, University of Sussex. In 1973, his paper ‘On the Limitations of Modern Medicine’ was published in Science, Medicine, and Man (shortly thereafter referenced in Ivan Illich’s ‘Medical Nemesis’). This early paper reveals many of the ideas and broad interests John maintained throughout his life, including mortality trends, health consequences of transitions, diseases of civilisation, food and nutrition, and health costs and benefits. The paper also shows his characteristically insightful analysis, drawing on knowledge ranging from human evolution to historical demography, social science, philosophy, policy, history, and economics.
Returning to Australia in 1975, he took up a lectureship at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine at Monash University in Melbourne. During the 1980s he led a landmark programme of research, The Levkadian Migrant Health Study, aimed at explaining the effects of diet on the persisting low mortality of Greek migrants to Australia. In the early 1990s, John helped to establish the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study to investigate the roles of diet and lifestyle in causing cancer and other non-communicable diseases, contributing later to findings supporting the health benefits of the Mediterranean...

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