Registration Opens for Second National Health Impact Assessment Meeting

Mar 8, 2013, 9:19 AM

An article in the  New York Times this week looks at the role of health impact assessments (HIAs), a tool that helps policymakers at all levels of government more fully understand the health effects of proposed laws, regulations, programs and projects—from big infrastructure projects to school curriculum development—and craft recommendations that capitalize on opportunities to improve health.

HIAs are a fast growing tool: nearly 225 of the assessments have been completed or are in process across the U.S., according to the Health Impact Project, a national initiative designed to promote the use of health impact assessments as a decision-making tool for policymakers. The Health Impact Project is a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

 “People in the public health world and in the business and development world are waking up to the need to get at health care problems and bring down health care costs,” says Aaron Wernham, MD, MPH, director of the Health Impact Project, in the New York Times article. “So we see a fair amount of uptake in certain sectors — the health impact assessment is out there and growing.”

Growth of the tool is also well indicated by last year’s sold out Inaugural National Health Impact Assessment Meeting. Registration has just opened for the second National Health Impact Assessment Meeting, to be held in Washington, D.C., September 24 and 25, 2013.

The meeting will bring together policymakers, public health professionals,  HIA practitioners; community-based organizations; researchers and decision makers from non-health agencies all who may use  or rely on the results of  HIAs in the fields of planning, transportation, housing, agriculture, energy, environment, and education.

This year’s National Health Impact Assessment Meeting includes a one-day summit for policymakers, as well as a special policymaker track embedded in the two-day conference for agency and legislative staff at all levels of government.

Recent grantees of the Health Impact Project reflect the broad range of policy questions that benefit from a health impact assessment:

  • The Kansas Health Institute (KHI) is conducting an HIA of casino development in southeast Kansas that might result from changes proposed in three state Senate bills. Some studies suggest that casinos elevate the risk of alcohol abuse, violence, stress, mental illness, injury, and bankruptcy, which can lead to loss of housing and health insurance. However, casinos also can provide economic development, employment, and insurance, as well as county and state revenues to support services and infrastructure improvements that promote health. KHI will assess, and develop recommendations to address, the risks, benefits, and trade-offs of the legislation.
  • The National Center for Healthy Housing will conduct an HIA to determine and compare the impacts of the proposed Baltimore-Washington Rail Intermodal Facility at several potential sites in the region. The facility would transfer freight cargo between trains and trucks. It poses potential health concerns that include, for example, air and noise pollution and substantial increases in local truck traffic leading to safety risks. Its construction and operation may create local jobs and generate community tax revenue that supports services that benefit health.
  • The Ohio Housing Finance Agency will conduct an HIA that will inform decisions on proposed modifications to housing inspection programs in the state that would reduce the number of inspections on affordable housing units by improving inter-agency coordination and streamlining the current system. Housing inspections help identify and remedy substandard physical conditions, like water leaks and mold, pests, peeling paint, and structural hazards, which can contribute to a wide range of health problems including asthma, injury, burns, and mental illness.

>>Bonus Link: This HIA Map developed by the Health Impact Project shows the broad range of issues being addressed by health impact assessments throughout the U.S. 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.