Public health spending dropped for first time in 2011

Tight budgets and the recession caused public health spending by federal, state and local governments to fall in 2011, marking the first time spending dropped since analysts began tracking the statistic in 1960.

Public health experts said that the drop in public health spending could put emergency preparedness progress made following Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks into jeopardy. A December report by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said that 29 states cut public health funding last fiscal year. Fourteen of them cut funding for the third straight year.

"Public health is adaptable, but the resource reductions now have been so substantial that it truly does put the public's health at risk," Georges C. Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, said. "I'm usually a little reluctant to say that, but we're at that point."

Public health spending is connected with reduced rates of preventable deaths in adults, infant mortality and other community health measures.

"We've got strong evidence there is a connection between resources invested in public health and health outcomes," Glen P. Mays, a professor at the University of Kentucky, said. "That suggests that cutbacks in funding, certainly over time, could have some adverse health consequences."

Total public health expenditures dropped 0.5 percent in 2011 to $79 billion. Since 2008, state and local public health departments cut approximately 50,000 jobs.