Public health interventions have contributed to increased life expectancy and cut costs associated with disease, however public health spending remains significantly less than on medical care.
According to a recent article on The Upshot, public health initiatives such as vaccines, flouridation of the water supply and family planning and contraceptive services have led to substantial success. Still, there are gains to be made. In 1900, the leading cause of death was attributed to infectious disease. Today, the cause has shifted to heart disease and cancer.
“We screen more for cancer and heart disease, though we could do better here and in the provision of other preventive services,” the article states. “Studies find that half of recommended preventive services are not delivered, and public health programs can increase awareness of the value of those services.”
And funding for public health initiatives remains but a fraction of what Americans spend in medical care, which yields far less return on investment. Several reasons exist for the gap, the article says. The private sector can’t make money on it, leaving the burden to the public sector, which is subject to political influence. Some public health campaigns are also not well received, seen as “bossy” when directing citizens on what to do (such as avoiding sugar).
It’s surprising, authors say, given that public health campaigns often pay for themselves.