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Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for Planners: What Tools are Useful? Journal of Planning Literature (May 2010)

By Anne Forsyth, Cornell University,
Crissa Schively-Slotterback, University of Minnesota,
and Kevin Krizek, University of Colorado

A practical overview of the development and use of the Health Impact Assessments (HIA) in planning, this article discusses its history, reviews current practices, and identifies its role in planning. HIAs were first used in the 1980s in Europe, Canada, Australia, and developing countries to assess the impact of infrastructure projects on public health. These early efforts were often modeled after Environmental Impact Assessments and drew from contemporary movements to promote health in all public policies. Its use expanded quickly in the 1990s as organizations and governments developed frameworks around the world, including the World Health Organization and the British Overseas Development Administration. Over the past decade, those in America have also begun to use HIAs to examine plans and policies. Public health professionals have been the HIA’s primary proponents, trying to integrate public health concerns into planning and policy outcomes. By developing  quantifiable processes for assessing health effects, professionals, whether in public health, planning, or policy, can influence these decisions and improve individual and community health.

The authors emphasize that there is no one format to which all HIAs adhere; each is different depending on the local circumstances and the policy or plan it is examining. All of them, however, attempt to identify community health issues and ways to prevent or alleviate negative impacts, as well as strategies to increase health benefits. Several projects developing and utilizing HIAs are examined, along with tools being used, including Design for Health and San Francisco’s Healthy Development Measurement Tool. The article also discusses the challenges of HIA implementation. Costs and time commitment can be high, and some of the health issues that HIAs examine are not very amenable to measurement. With the link between health and the built environment becoming increasingly clear, however, the authors argue that HIAs are emerging as an important tool with which health problems can be addressed.

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