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Study: Investing in Public Services Brings Improved Health Outcomes

A new report shows a connection between local government investment in public services such as libraries. housing or parks and improved health outcomes in the community. Photo: Pixabay

by Mark Richardson

HOUSTON – Can building a library improve the health of the people who use it? Information in a new study shows that investments in those kind of social services can bring communities a significant “health dividend.”

The report finds that when local governments in Texas increase spending for public services by just 10 percent, they see measurable improvements in health outcomes in just four years. Report author Mac McCullough, an associate professor of health-care delivery at Arizona State University, said communities that invest in areas such as education, housing, parks, police and libraries have healthier citizens.

“If you spend $10 more per person in a given year on, say, housing or libraries,” he said, “four years later – which is pretty short in terms of health outcomes – you can see gains in your county health ranking relative to your peer counties of up to about seven spots.”

For the study, McCullough said, they compared data on social-service investments to health rankings in those counties based on obesity rates, premature deaths, overall health status and other areas. In almost every county studied, he said, spending on public services brought a measurable improvement over time in health outcomes.

He said he believes the study is important because it verifies the connection between public spending and improved health.

“We don’t just assume that we’re getting good bang for our buck,” he said. “You know, we figure out what our buck is and what our bang is and then we can make some informed decisions about whether those are the values that we share as a community or whether we would like to allocate differently or not at all.”

McCullough said that in addition to looking at things such as return on investment, government budget writers need to also consider potential health benefits when they fund social-service projects.

“There’s the health dividend to these investments that we make in non-health areas,” he said. “When we spend money to build a library, not only do we have more libraries in our community, but our health may actually improve as well.”

The outcomes in the study were measured in the 57-county region of southeast Texas served by the Episcopal Health Foundation, which produced the report.

The report is online at episcopalhealth.org.

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