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How has Health Impact Assessment been used? Findings from a new study

Health is impacted by multiple factors outside the direct control of the public health and health care system, such as education, income, and the conditions in which people live, work, and play. Health impact assessment (HIA), provides a structured process for examining the potential health impacts of proposed policies, plans, programs, and projects. Conducting a HIA involves using an array of data sources and analytic methods, gathering input from stakeholders, and providing recommendations on monitoring and managing potential health impacts.

A new study, published this month in the Journal of School Health, systematically identified 20 HIAs conducted in the United States between 2003 and 2015 on issues related to prekindergarten, primary, and secondary education. The HIAs were conducted to examine (1) school structure and funding, (2) transportation to and from school, (3) physical modifications to school facilities, (4) in-school physical activity and nutrition, and (5) school discipline and climate. Assessments employed a range of methods to characterize the nature, magnitude, and severity of potential health impacts. Assessments fostered stakeholder engagement and provided health-promoting recommendations, some of which were subsequently incorporated into school policies.

Results suggest that HIA can serve as a promising tool that education, health, and other stakeholders can use to maximize the health and well-being of students, families, and communities. Health impact assessments should be used when: (1) there is a decision that has the potential to affect environmental or social determinants of health, but the potential health impacts are not being considered; (2) there is sufficient time to conduct an analysis before the final decision is made; (3) the assessment can add value to the decision-making process; and (4) there are stakeholders, data, and resources to support the process.