As the federal government fully reopens after a 16-day shutdown, some of us may be wondering why we didn’t feel a stronger impact on our daily lives. This begs the question: do we really need all those government programs from a health standpoint?
As it turns out, 79 of those public health programs — that receive federal, state, or local funding — are well worth the tax dollars spent on them because they lead to significant health improvements or prevent life-threatening illnesses or injuries. That’s the finding of a report issued Thursday by the New York Academy of Medicine and the non-profit group Trust for America’s Health.
Two Massachusetts programs that made the cut: a smoking-cessation program and an elementary school obesity prevention initiative. Here, according to the report, are seven worth our taxpayer dollars:
1. Shape Up Somerville. Aimed at elementary school students in first through third grades, the Somerville program improved nutrition in schools, collaborated with community restaurants, and installed safer walking routes to school. After one year, the average 8-year-old child in the program had reduced excess weight gain by one pound.
2. The Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation (WISEWOMAN) program. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the program helps low-income, uninsured women aged 40 to 64 with high risk of heart disease. With preventive care and screenings, WISEWOMAN participants lowered their 10-year risk of coronary heart disease by 8.7 percent after one year.
3. The Washington State Clean School Bus Program. This simple initiative, which outfits older school buses with tailpipe and crankcase filters to reduce soot emissions, reduced bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia cases in its child passengers.
4. The federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. This allocated funds for state departments of transportation to build sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and safe crossings, improve signage, and make other transportation improvements that allow children to travel more safely to school. In New York City, the annual rate of children injured while walking and biking during school-travel hours decreased 44 percent from 2001 to 2010 in areas with SRTS interventions.
5. Checkpoint Tennessee. The state increased its volume of sobriety checkpoints from about 15 to nearly 900 in one year. The program resulted in a 20.4 percent reduction in alcohol-related crashes, and is credited with preventing nine fatal alcohol-related crashes per month.
6· Free condoms in Louisiana. A social marketing campaign in the state made over 33 million condoms freely available in over 1,000 public and commercial sites. Surveys showed that condom use increased by 30 percent among African American men, and the program was estimated to prevent 170 HIV infections.
7. Tobacco cessation program in Massachusetts. The program to provide smokers with cessation counseling and aids cost $183 per program participant and was estimated to save $571 per person in smoking-related hospital costs.