A new first-of-its-kind study found a link between county health department spending and how healthy babies are at birth.
Funding for health departments was slashed to the bone across the country during the recession. Lawmakers argued tough times called for tough decisions--and public health programs aimed at maternal and child health were frequently on the chopping block in states such as Florida.
Now, new research out of the University of Washington found those cuts had real outcomes on things like birth weight and infant mortality.
The study looked at 11 years of data from 102 county health departments across Florida and Washington State. Betty Bekemeier was the lead researcher of the study.
“We saw that in counties or over time when there was greater spending on maternal child health services, you had better birth weight outcomes,” she said. “So, correspondingly, when you had budget cuts or less spending in these areas you had worsening rates of low birth weights.”
Bekemeier said this correlation was most prevalent among low-income or vulnerable populations, which typically rely more on their local health department. These health programs are mostly prevention-focused and offer services like family planning and education. And most departments also provide screenings to mothers, children and pregnant women.
Bekemeier said she’s not surprised about what she found. She says county health officials and medical professionals have long argued these programs work. But now, Bekemeier said they have a way to prove it.
“We like to think it helps to have some qualitative validation that really supports what they’re seeing, experiencing and feeling with families they serve every day,” she said.
Bekemeier added this information could be most valuable when public health professionals have to make their case for more funding.