New Report: Laws and Policies that Support Health Impact Assessment

Apr 6, 2012, 2:58 PM, Posted by

A new report, "Legal Review Concerning the Use of Health Impact Assessments in Non-Health Sectors," released yesterday at the inaugural National Health Impact Assessment Meeting, finds that a wide variety of existing laws offer important opportunities to improve Americans’ health.

>>Follow our coverage from the National HIA Meeting.

Using a sample of 36 jurisdictions in the United States, the research found that existing laws offer many opportunities for health to be factored into a range of decisions, in which it typically would not otherwise be considered. The sample included laws and policies in 20 states, 10 localities, five tribal nations and the federal government.

The new report is the first comprehensive study of its kind and found an unexpectedly large number of laws that facilitate the consideration of health effects in fields such as transportation, energy and agriculture. Many of these legal requirements may be satisfied by conducting health impact assessments (HIAs), a type of study that helps decision-makers identify and address the potential and often unrecognized health risks and benefits of their decisions.

The report, prepared by Arizona State University’s (ASU) Public Health Law and Policy Program, was commissioned by the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“This report highlights many untapped opportunities to take health into account in decisions that shape such conditions,” said Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project. “It shows that HIAs—whose use is rapidly increasing—may help satisfy many legal requirements, bring public health experts to the table, and help inform policy-makers’ decisions that reduce the risk of major illnesses in communities around the United States.”

Professor James G. Hodge, Jr., JD, LLM, principal investigator on the report and director of the Western Region of the Network for Public Health Law, who presented at a session during the inaugural National HIP Meeting, said “We found that many laws require public and private actors to identify health risks and benefits underlying key policies. These laws can open the door to using HIAs as a means to fulfill requirements for broad, systematic assessments of health effects to inform specific decisions or processes.”

>>Read our Q&A on the report with Professor James Hodge.

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