Public health pays off

UofL’s new public health and information sciences dean explains return on investment

Public health is about creating conditions that make it easier for people to achieve a healthier life. The new dean of the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences (SPHIS), Craig Blakely, PhD, MPH, underscores the value of prevention and the importance of well-supported public health systems in preventing disease, saving lives and curbing health care spending as the school promotes the concept of Return on Investment(ROI): Save Lives, Save Money, the theme of National Public Health Week (NPHW), April 1-7.

Blakely points to obesity as an example of an emerging health-related crisis with 70 percent of adults in the United States expected to face the disease by the year 2040. He says behavioral changes make a significant difference.

NIB_Blakely“If we all took exercise seriously by just walking, we could save $50 billion in cardiovascular disease-related costs,” he said. “A 10 percent weight loss equals a $5,000 savings in health-related complications. A typical desk worker could lose a pound a month by standing two hours a day.”

Blakely points to several other examples of public health’s potential ROI:

  • $1 prenatal care translates to $6 in health care cost savings
  • For every $1 spent on fluoridated water, there is a $20 saving in dental care; 80 million United States residents don’t have fluoridated water
  • Every dollar spent on childhood immunizations saves $18 on vaccine-preventable disease-related costs
  • If every state adopted comprehensive smoke-free policies, $2 billion over the course of several years would be saved in smoking-related deaths, lung cancer treatments and care for related health complications
  • Physician and nursing shortages could be substantially mitigated by creating a healthier community and population, reducing the need for clinical services.

Public health research can help generate these cost savings.

NIB_Baumgartner“The goal of public health research is not only to identify the causes of diseases, so they may be controlled and prevented, but to understand how to promote optimum health and well-being in communities,” said Kathy Baumgartner, PhD, professor, department of epidemiology and population health.

Baumgartner has taken part in public health research on the important link between physical activity and its protective association with breast cancer. This research has expanded to focus on how and why exercise works, and to determine answers to questions related to the type, frequency, duration, and intensity of exercise when evaluating the benefits of physical activity. Public health research also is investigating how to modify environments to encourage exercise.

The National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and local health departments send strong messages that promote regular physical activity, because it reduces the risk of developing or dying from many of the major causes of illness and death, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and osteoporosis. It also has been found to promote psychological well-being.


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