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The Impact of Public Health Funding on Population Health Outcomes

Nancy S. Elliott, Alejandro Arrieta, Timothy F. Page
Published: 3 February 2023

Abstract: The objective of this study was to assess the impact of local health department (LHD) expenditures on population health measures using counties as the unit of analysis. An observational research design is used to examine whether public health benefits are associated with higher levels of public health funding. Linear probability multivariate regression models with the use of local level cross-sectional and panel data are employed. A 1-year and a 2-year lag structure are also used to quantify the longer term public health effects of changes in LHD expenditures. Analyses were performed at the county level using local data representing 2120 LHDs, covering 48 US states. Expenditure data from the National Association of County and City Health Officials Profile Surveys and public health measures from County Health Rankings Annual Reports are used. Four public health measures are examined—obesity prevalence, sexually transmitted diseases, diabetes prevalence, and human immunodeficiency virus prevalence. Results from cross-sectional, pooled ordinary least squares, and panel data with fixed effects reveal that increased LHD expenditures per capita were not associated with any of the population health outcomes studied. Multivariate linear regression results using a 1- and 2-year lag structure reveal similar results: funding was not significantly predictive of better public health outcomes. The study design did not control for the potential endogeneity of public health funding. More detailed data and robust research approaches are needed to disentangle the effect and effectively answer whether increased public funding translates to improved population health.
Keywords: local health departments / public health finance / health policy / population health / local public health systems

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