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Health Impact Assessments: A Surprisingly Good Source For Stories

Health Impact Assessments: A Surprisingly Good Source For Stories

I was all set to write this post about how journalists could mine the burgeoning field of "health impact assessments" for stories when I noticed that Melissa Sweet of the excellent Croakey health policy blog already had written a great post on the topic. Drat.

Fortunately, Melissa was writing for Australians, so I still can add my two cents.

Just as environmental impact assessments try to spell out the effects of a proposed development or policy on the environment, health impact assessments (HIAs) attempt to do the same for community health. Here is a good description of their goals and how they're organized.

HIAs seem to be having a bit of a moment right now – they were highlighted at this week's APHA conference in Denver – but it's a bit early to assess their influence on policymaking as they're still regarded with some skepticism in the United States.

You can learn more about HIAs at the Health Impact Project, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts that advocates for the use of HIAs in policymaking.

"We know of more than 110 HIAs that have been completed or are in progress and we hear about more each month," project director Dr. Aaron Wernham wrote in this blog post. "For our part, Health Impact Project invested $1.5 million this year to fund 13 HIA demonstration projects in 10 states."

If there's a completed HIA, or one in progress, in your community, it's worth a quick browse for potential stories. How the HIA itself is received – or ignored – by policymakers also is worth monitoring. Here's a list of California HIAs now in progress at the HIA consulting firm Health Impact Partners.  The UCLA Health Impact Assessment Clearinghouse also maintains a national list of completed HIAs.

For example, in this HIA examining the health effects of redeveloping several San Francisco public housing projects, a quarter of residents surveyed at one project noted that even after redevelopment, they still had problems with mold, noise, and tobacco smoke – "all environmental hazards with well-established evidence of health impacts."

Hinting at another compelling story that's less obviously health-related was this tidbit buried deep within the report:

Redevelopment has been accompanied by an increase in diversity in public housing. Some noted that this has come at the expense of African Americans not being able to return to or get into public housing. Yet, decreasing residential and economic segregation may have health gains potentially by reducing racism, increasing residents' capacity to gain resources, and decrease crime.

Have you ever dived into an HIA and come up with a story idea? Share your experience in the comments below.

Comments

Hi Barbara: I just blogged about a sorta-similar project here in the San Joaquin Valley. The San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Project, an initiative between UC Davis and local health/environmental organizations, is mapping all the polluting facilities in the Valley, and including social data in the maps... Pretty cool!

Here's my blog on the project: http://blogs.vidaenelvalle.com/health/2010/11/15/maps-tell-stories-of-pollution-health-impacts/

Cool, indeed! Thanks for sharing your work, Rebecca!

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