Statestats | Assessing Policy or Project Health Risks

5/1/2017

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | May 2017

Let’s say state officials want to build a new highway and need to know how it might alter noise levels and air quality, and who, if anyone, might be affected by the project. They could learn the answers by conducting an HIA, or health impact assessment—a process that uses data, analytics and community input to give decision-makers insight into how a policy, program or project might affect a community’s health and well-being. It then recommends ways to minimize risks (and the costs associated with them) and take advantage of opportunities to create healthier communities.

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These assessments can be conducted without legislation, though some states have passed measures explicitly requiring them. The assessments can be done by government staff, by nonprofits or by private or academic contractors. Since 1999, more than 400 health impact assessments have been completed for a variety of policies, programs and projects in at least 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Kentucky, for example, wanted to know what effects a “worksite wellness tax credit” might have on childhood nutrition and obesity, job availability and communities’ overall health. An HIA concluded in 2012 the credit potentially could benefit 30,000 employees and their families and “would likely have positive impacts on the physical and social health of Kentuckians and the economy.” The tax credit was implemented and is available to employers who offer certain wellness programs to employees.

Since 2016, at least 26 HIA-related bills have been introduced in state legislatures in various policy areas.

—Ashley Noble

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