Maintaining the health of the population requires many choices, ensuring that scarce resources available are used to their best advantage. However, the evaluation of public health interventions is often more complex than conventional health technologies with outcomes and costs lasting over many years and taking different forms. These may be difficult to measure by conventional economic methods.  Taking more physical exercise may translate into reduced risks of weight-related diseases as well as changes in other lifestyle habits such as smoking. Public health initiatives cover a very broad range of social problems and present new problems for health economists. At UEA staff have been at the forefront of developing new methods and evaluating public health programmes. We advise national and international bodies such as NICE and WHO on such public health initiatives. 

Case Study 1 - Economic benefits of regular swimming

When the Amateur Swimming Association of Great Britain wanted to know the economic benefits of communities swimming on a regular basis, they asked HEC to help them. Our modelling showed that the cost-effectiveness derived from regular weekly swimming compares very favourably with many other health care treatments in terms of the cost per Quality-Adjusted Life-Year (QALY) and was well within the normal cost-effective range approved by NICE.  To be on the safe-side, our results were deliberately conservative assuming low levels of regular swimming.

Knowing how much these activities saved was also useful for demonstrating any future return on investment in public swimming pools. In terms of reduced and avoided chronic diseases such as - CHD, stroke and Type-2 diabetes alone, the savings amounted £1BN hence showing a 'return on investment' to public pools of around £1.5 for every £1 spent.

Case Study 2 - Economic benefits of community sports participation

Sport England recently wanted to know the economic benefits of more public participation in community sports programmes. We helped them build an interactive economic model that allows users to estimate the predicted health benefits in various sports categories and to calculate the financial savings (including some of disadvantages of sports injuries).

Other projects have included an evaluation of a national ‘Walking for Health' initiative and also a Local Authority's "Healthy Café' to improve the eating habits of its population.