Low-income communities experience the greatest health gains from public health funding, according to new research released today at the American Public Health Association’s 141st Annual Meeting in Boston.

Researchers found that over 17 years communities given public health funding experienced 4.3 percent reductions in infant mortality, as well as reductions of 0.5 to 3.9 percent in non-infant deaths from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and influenza.

However, these health gains were 20-44 percent larger when funding was targeted to lower-income communities.

“These results indicate that significant gains in health and reductions in health care costs could be achieved simply by re-deploying how and where we spend our public health resources, even in the absence of new funding,” said Glen Mays, PhD, MPH, director of the University of Kentucky’s National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research and APHA Annual Meeting presenter. “These results also suggest that new public health funding — such as those that become available through the Affordable Care Act — could have a larger population-wide impact if they are targeted to lower-resource, higher-need communities and programmed to support a broader array of prevention strategies.”

Mays tracked public health spending and population health patterns using data compiled by the National Association of County and City Health Officials among 3,000 local public health agencies in the U.S. He found that public health spending in lower-socioeconomic communities creates more health gains and cost reductions than the same level of spending in higher-income locations.

Lower death rates and health care costs were particularly pronounced within communities that allocated their public health funding across a broader mix of preventive services.

“Does this place certain American communities at elevated risk of poorer health and higher health care costs based on where they live? Our findings show that they do, and it is not only how much is spent on public health that matters in preventing disease and injury and in reducing medical costs. To a large extent, it is also about how and where these dollars are used that matters,” Mays said.