RWJF, The Pew Charitable Trusts Launch Health Impact Project

National initiative will promote use of health impact assessments as a decision-making tool for policy-makers.

    • October 20, 2009

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and The Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew) have launched a new national initiative to help people lead healthier lives and create healthier, safer communities.

The Health Impact Project will promote the use of health impact assessments to incorporate health into decisions made by sectors—such as transportation, planning, education or housing—that do not traditionally focus on health outcomes. Health impact assessment (HIA) is a flexible, data-driven approach that identifies the health consequences of public policies, programs and projects, and develops practical strategies to improve health and minimize adverse effects. HIAs bring together relevant public input and available data and use a range of analytic methods to provide science-based information that can help decision makers understand the health implications of proposed policies, project and programs, and make better-informed choices that avoid unintended harm and unexpected costs.

“To help people make healthier choices and stem the rising tide of chronic disease, health needs to be factored into public policy and other decisions that affect and influence how we live, work, learn and play,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., RWJF’s president and CEO. “The HIA process can foster a new way of thinking that puts health at the forefront of public policy.”

RWJF has provided Pew a $7.2 million grant to operate and administer the Health Impact Project out of Pew’s Washington, D.C., office. Grants of $25,000 to $150,000 will be awarded on a rolling basis for up to 15 HIA demonstration projects over a four and a half year period. Government agencies, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations at the local, state and tribal levels are invited to apply. Grantees will also receive training, mentoring and technical assistance. The director of the Health Impact Project is Aaron Wernham, M.D., M.S., a recognized leader in the HIA field who conducted trainings for, collaborated with and advised numerous health and environmental regulatory agencies on integrating HIAs into their programs.

For several years, RWJF has been funding grants to explore the feasibility and impact of HIAs, which are being used in growing numbers by community groups and policy makers in the United States and around the world. In San Francisco, an HIA for a new housing development resulted in several measures to protect residents from nearby roadway pollution. Other HIAs have examined how transportation policies and urban planning decisions drive patterns of traffic injury, asthma in children and levels of physical activity. In Alaska, an HIA helped resolve a longstanding disagreement between community and government stakeholders and led to widely accepted revisions to oil and gas leasing plans and several new protections for air quality and human health. Many other potential applications for HIAs have yet to be explored.