Health Impact Assessment: A Central Tool for Building Healthy Communities
This post is part two of a three part series leading up the the Healthy Communities Summit, which will be held September 20-21 in Atlanta, GA. The summit is co-produced by the Atlanta Chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Community Design Initiative, with additional support provided by the Georgia Tech Student Planning Association for the Thursday kick-off event. More information about the summit and registration details can be found at the event page.
Let the Health Impact Assessment begin! As athletes prepared for the 2012 London Olympic Games, so did England’s planners and health professionals with the following assessments:
- Rapid Health Impact Assessment of the Proposed London Olympic Games and Their Legacy (2004). The report was released before London’s 2005 successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics. The report compares the health impact of the Games on London citizens to a “No Games” scenario.
- The Health Impact of the 2012 Games: a Screening Health Impact Assessment of the North East’s Draft Vision for the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games 2012 (2006). The report looked at the cultural and social benefits the Games would provide, as well as the risk of worsening health or widening health inequities. It evaluated the economic, sporting, sustainability, and environmental aspects of the Games and their effects on the area northeast of London.
- Health Impact of the 2012 Olympic Transport Plans (2010). The report assessed the potential of the transportation plans for the Games to encourage healthy activities during the Games (more biking, walking, and using public transport) and afterwards. Also, the Olympic site will be developed after the Games to provide green areas for cycling, walking, and better public transportation.
These three Health Impact Assessments (HIA) helped ensure that the infrastructure and programs created for the 2012 Games would promote good health among attendees and residents during the Games—and would continue to do so after the Games ended.
Why is HIA important? Because infrastructure and community design influence current leading causes of death and disability, such as diabetes, injuries, asthma, and heart disease. HIA is a six-step process in which planners, health professionals, and community members work together to assess how a proposed project might affect the physical and psychological health and general well-being of a community.
Sometimes design strategies that improve one health outcome may impair another; HIA helps identify strategies that provide the most benefit. Doctors advise their patients on how they can stay healthy; in many ways, HIA provides the same advice to communities. This advice helps communities make informed choices about improving public health through community design.
Although HIA has been performed for many years in Europe, it is relatively new in the United States; however, its use is rapidly escalating (see map at http://www.healthimpactproject.org/hia/us).
To help increase awareness of HIA and encourage its use in the United States, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) Atlanta and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy Community Design Initiative will sponsor a Healthy Communities Summit on September 21, 2012 in Atlanta. The Summit offers an HIA session that will:
- Explain the HIA process and its distinct advantages
- Provide real-life examples of its use
- Discuss how to incorporate HIA into current planning processes with minimal impact on time and resources
- Offer opportunities to partner more closely with potential allies from public health and related fields.
For anyone involved in the community-planning process, HIA is a central tool to identify early the potential health impact of designs and decisions, and to further CNU’s commitment to creating sustainable communities and healthy living conditions.