Health professionals would prioritise spending on the young over the old and consider preventing illness more important than curing it, an international survey has found.
The research was based on 253 health professionals from six countries who were asked to rank the importance of ten interventions.
Childhood immunisation was deemed the most important, followed by anti-smoking education for children and GP care for everyday illness.
Support for carers of the elderly was ranked as the sixth most important and treatment of people with schizophrenia as the seventh.
At number ten, cancer treatment for smokers was considered the lowest priority.
"Across the world many countries are struggling with the health and financial implications of a rapid rise in non-communicable disease," the researchers, who were led by Glenn Salkeld, from Australia's University of Sydney, said.
"If healthcare professionals and policy makers believe that prevention and targeting the young is an important principle for health spending priorities, then health care funders should examine the cost effectiveness evidence for intervening early in life."
The survey is published in PLoS Medicine.