Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What the Stimulus Means for Public Health

President Obama passed the Stimulus Bill (a.k.a. the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) on Monday. Immediately, I got an email from APHA announcing how pleased they were "with the $1 billion investment in disease prevention and wellness activities...[and]with the inclusion of $2 billion to improve community health centers and expand services and $500 million for the training of primary care providers." Additionally, I received an email sent from the Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest who praised the inclusion of funding for community-based prevention and wellness programs, equipment for the National School Lunch Program to help schools prepare healthier meals, and increased support for WIC recipients. 

You make ask, "why is public health part of this stimulus plan?" or even argue that it has no place in it. I disagree.  Maintaining the health of our nation during this economic crisis must be a priority. Healthy workers are productive workers, just as healthy mothers have healthy babies. Healthy babies grow into healthy adults.

Just as the education system will suffer greatly as a result of budget cuts and spending freezes, so will those serving in public health see their budgets shrink and their resources dwindle. Thankfully, the education system will receive $100 billion in investment through the Stimulus Bill (see Nicholas Kristof's Sunday column for his take on this). The $3 billion for public health pales in comparison to that amount. Nonetheless, I think that the public health priorities included in this bill will speak volumes for the types of activities that the administration will pursue in the coming months and years.

It is worth noting that what is good for education is also good for public health. Higher educational attainment is associated with lower risk of disease and death for most health problems. Reducing disparities in education may serve to improve the public's health more than any technological innovation in medicine (e.g., electronic medical records) could hope to. I hope we do not lose focus of the fundamental causes of poor health, to do so would be a tragic misstep.

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