BACKGROUND: Public sector austerity measures in many high-income countries mean that public health budgets are reducing year on year. To help inform the potential impact of these proposed disinvestments in public health, we set out to determine the return on investment (ROI) from a range of existing public health interventions.
METHODS: We conducted systematic searches on all relevant databases (including MEDLINE; EMBASE; CINAHL; AMED; PubMed, Cochrane and Scopus) to identify studies that calculated a ROI or cost-benefit ratio (CBR) for public health interventions in high-income countries.
RESULTS: We identified 2957 titles, and included 52 studies. The median ROI for public health interventions was 14.3 to 1, and median CBR was 8.3. The median ROI for all 29 local public health interventions was 4.1 to 1, and median CBR was 10.3. Even larger benefits were reported in 28 studies analysing nationwide public health interventions; the median ROI was 27.2, and median CBR was 17.5.
CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review suggests that local and national public health interventions are highly cost-saving. Cuts to public health budgets in high income countries therefore represent a false economy, and are likely to generate billions of pounds of additional costs to health services and the wider economy.