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NIH Funding is Good for Your Health, and It’s Good for the Economy

aerial view of the NIH campus in Bethesda, MarylandFederal funding for biomedical research saves lives. Not only that, but investment in research through the National Institutes of Health stimulates the economy by helping people stay healthy and productive. So says a new report published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (open access).

Lead author Kenneth Manton at Duke University and colleagues looked at four four significant causes of death over the period from 1950 to 2004: cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. They estimate that investments in NIH funding helped avoid more than 35 million deaths over that period, and that for the first three ailments, death rates started dropping more rapidly about ten years after a significant increase in research investment.

NIH funding supports public health, they conclude, as well as workforce competitiveness:

Evaluation of the level of investment in research suggests that a significantly greater, and more prolonged, investment in NIH, and indeed all, federal research would provide a greater stimulus to U.S. economic growth.

Jocelyn Kaiser at ScienceInsider grabbed the study’s closing recommendation for her headline yesterday: “Need More U.S. Workers? Quadruple the NIH Budget.” Or as Manton et al. put it: “To compensate for the slower future growth of the U.S. labor force (e.g., from 1.2% per annum in 1996 to 2006 to 0.3% after 2017) on economic growth, the size of NIH expenditures relative to GDP should quadruple to about 1% ( $120 Billion) and be done sufficiently rapidly (10 years) to compensate for the slowing growth of the U.S. labor force.” Proponents of merely doubling the budget over ten years now have that proposal to consider.

Heidi Ledford, reporting for Nature, notes that the study was of course funded by a grant from the NIH. But she also spoke with Cary Gross at Yale’s School of Medicine, who points out that evidence that biomedical research improves public health and economic growth is important, but the conclusion should not allow observers to lose sight of the importance of basic research: “The opposite of that argument is that if scientific research does not directly relate to health, then it’s not important.”

The beauty of the NIH is that it supports both critical basic research and applied work on the interventions that help U.S. citizens live healthier lives.

Image: The NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland (NIH)

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