Aaron Wernham, director of the Health Impact Project discusses the benefits of health impact assessments in this edition of Governing.More info
"Healthcare costs are spiraling upward, and the country is not getting healthier for the money spent. Nearly half of all Americans have at least one chronic illness today, signaling more complications and higher costs tomorrow. We cannot spend our way out of this — we need a new approach.
The most urgent health problems facing our nation — such as obesity, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and injuries — are shaped more by where we live and work than by what happens in the doctor’s office or hospital.
As a physician, I have seen this firsthand. I can treat a heart attack if someone gets to the hospital in time, but I cannot prevent it if air pollution was the trigger. I have had patients who wish to follow my exercise recommendations, but live in neighborhoods where walking is dangerous due to traffic or crime. I have cared for diabetics who struggle to find fresh produce because there are no grocery stores in their neighborhoods, yet fast food is available on every corner.
To address skyrocketing medical costs and improve the well-being of our citizens, we need to take health into account when making decisions that shape the world outside the doctor’s office. A recent National Research Council committee (on which I served) found health impact assessment (HIA) a promising tool. An HIA is a type of study that helps policymakers find and address the likely health effects of decisions in other fields, such as building a major roadway, planning a city’s growth or developing agricultural policy.
HIAs consider benefits, not just risks. They can help make the case for a project, policy or plan. An HIA of a Farm to School bill in Oregon showed that providing incentives to deliver fresh local food to schools could not only improve childrens’ diets but also create jobs, especially in the hard-hit farm industry. The report looked at employment because it is a health issue as much as an economic concern: Jobs help people afford safe places to live, adequate amounts of food and healthcare. The assessment made recommendations to maximize the benefits the bill offered. The HIA was instrumental in generating broad, bipartisan support for a pilot project.
The goal of an HIA is to bring health into a deliberation about a policy so it can be weighed alongside other considerations. An HIA of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in Massachusetts showed that families faced with high heating bills must often choose between heating their homes and buying food. Moreover, these families turn to space heaters and ovens for warmth, increasing the risk of fires, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning. The state controller recognized that these health risks could lead to unrecognized costs: Burns and fires are not only dangerous, but the emergency room and hospital care they require is expensive, and the costs are often shifted to the taxpayer. After seeing the analysis from the HIA, decisionmakers chose to support the energy program.
States across the nation are leading the way: Alaska, California, Massachusetts and Oregon are all finding ways to make health a more routine factor in decisionmaking through the use of HIAs, each using a model that suits its needs and capacity. At the local level, Atlanta; Baltimore; Nashville, Tenn.; and Minneapolis are also using HIAs to address pressing health concerns. More needs to be done, but these states and cities are on the cutting edge.
There are many factors contributing to the rising costs of healthcare, but there are just as many solutions. Whether in health, transportation, energy or agriculture sectors, public or private, we all have a role to play in solving our nation’s health challenges, and health impact assessments are a smart way to help us do it. With national healthcare expenditures at $2.5 trillion in 2009 and climbing, we cannot afford to wait."
- Date added:
- Oct 19, 2011
The Health Impact Project announced eight new grant recipients that will receive funding to conduct health impact assessments, or HIAs. The projects will bring health considerations into upcoming decisions on topics including education, sanitation infrastructure, and energy. The grantees were selected based on their response to a national call for proposals.More info
The city of Greenville, South Carolina recently completed a yearlong health impact assessment with support from Pew's Health Impact Project.More info
The Health Impact Project announces a request for proposals (RFP) that will fund three grants of up to $100,000 each to identify and address potential health impacts of an upcoming decision in each of their communities or state through the use of health impact assessments (HIA).More info
The New York Times interviews Aaron Wernham, project director for the Health Impact Project, about the growing field of health impact assessments.More info
Minnesota organizations are invited to participate in an in-person training to learn about health impact assessments (HIAs). An HIA can help improve the well-being of local communities by incorporating health into decisions in other sectors.More info
"A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concludes that getting rid of junk food at school boosts kids’ health and doesn’t hurt schools financially. Even many snack food companies are on board."More info
"'The evidence is clear and compelling,' said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project in a press release. 'Implementing strong national nutrition standards to make the snacks and beverages our children consume healthier is something that schools and districts can afford. The USDA should do all it can to finalize and help implement strong standards.'"More info
Aaron Wernham, director of the Health Impact Project, explains how by systematically assessing the health risks of development decisions upfront, health impact assessments can prevent costly and harmful mistakes.More info
"A study released late last month delivers the message: Make competitive foods offered in schools healthier, too. The study was a collaboration between the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and came from two projects, the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project – the director, Jessica Donze Black, is a University of Delaware graduate – and the Health Impact Project."More info
The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, announced a call for proposals for grants to conduct health impact assessments (HIAs). HIAs identify and address the health impacts of decisions in other sectors, such as planning roads, passing agriculture legislation, or siting schools.More info
Pew and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation collaborate to examine impact of updated USDA standards for snack and a la carte foods and beverages sold in schools.More info
"A recent study has reaffirmed what local school officials already knew: Student health and school budgets can both benefit from higher nutrition standards."More info