If you or your loved ones have had immunizations, worn seat belts or used child car safety seats, enjoyed drinking clean water and breathing clean air, quit smoking or avoided the habit altogether, you’ve benefited from the nation’s public health efforts. In addition to greatly enhancing our safety, health and quality of life, public health represents a financial return on investment (ROI).
That is the theme – “Public Health is ROI: Save Lives, Save Money” – of this year’s National Public Health Week (NPHW), which begins today. According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), NPHW began in 1995 to encourage individuals and communities to celebrate the work of public health and to come together to support better health for all.
In its NPHW online toolkit, APHA shares compelling facts on the value of public health “to our lives and pocketbooks,” including the following:
- Investing just $10 per person each year in proven, community-based public health efforts could save the United States more than $16 billion within five years. That’s a $5.60 return for every $1 invested.
- Routine childhood immunizations save $9.9 million in direct health care costs, save 33,000 lives and prevent 14 million cases of disease.
- Each 10 percent increase in local public health spending contributes to a 6.9 percent decrease in infant deaths, a 3.2 percent decrease in cardiovascular deaths, a 1.4 percent decrease in deaths due to diabetes, and a 1.1 percent decrease in cancer deaths.
- In 2009, seat belts saved about 13,000 lives and could have saved thousands more if all drivers and passengers had buckled up.
APHA points out that public health and prevention play into individual good health via our environments, community resources and access to health care. Personal responsibility for one’s health is critical, of course, but – as the association notes – “that’s not enough to turn around health care spending, curb disease rates and continue to move toward a healthier future.”
For example, countering growing rates of obesity and diabetes will require wider access to affordable healthy foods; planning communities in ways that foster physical activity; educating the public on better nutrition; working with industry, schools and employers on common solutions; and collecting data to evaluate each endeavor. “These are the roles of public health,” APHA states.
We’re celebrating NPHW at DMU by praising our master’s degree program in public health (M.P.H.). In addition to the rigor and excellence of the program academically, its faculty and students are engaged in public health efforts and research in areas ranging from the evaluation and design of health education disease prevention programs; water contaminants; health care disparities and access to health care and public health services; adolescent health risk behaviors; and much more.
From enforcing food safety rules to preparing communities for disasters and emergencies, from ensuring safe working and housing environments to tracking potentially risky chemical exposures, public health plays an enormous role in our lives. This week and every week, let’s celebrate its impact, support its leaders, demand it at our schools and workplaces, and encourage elected officials and private funders to invest in it. Public health saves lives.