What is it? A health impact assessment helps determine how any given project or policy will impact the health of the people involved. This process is similar to that of an environmental impact assessment. A study may be used to gather a wealth of data and input about a proposed project. The assessment incorporates technical data, public health expertise and community involvement to gather a more complete picture of the risks involved in any given project. Analysts provide recommendations for whether a project should proceed, and include specific strategies for how to best mitigate any adverse effects. An assessment can identify problems, generate community support, and improve proposed plans and policies. While an assessment is conducted by experts, local residents and officials can request, and advocate for the use of these types of assessments.
How has it been used? In the 2000s, Atlanta officials were searching for ways to revitalize the downtown area, especially the abandoned rail lines. Planners proposed an ambitious approach, called the Beltline, which would include massive improvements to existing parks, and the construction of new parks and multi-use trails connecting the parks. The plan called for a new rail transit system, that would also connect these areas. The Center for Disease Control and Georgia Tech’s Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development joined together to conduct a Health Impact Assessment of this plan. Using a multi-faceted approach that brought together experts from many different fields, the assessment identified a number of potential impacts on the study population. Analysts concluded that, while no significant changes would occur in air quality, the Beltline would have a positive overall impact on the health of the population. The report found that access to greenspace and increased physical activity were among the most significant contributors to individual health impacts from this project. Study leaders recommended that the project be accelerated, while ensuring that affordable housing be made available close to the target areas. The project has moved forward. Four trail segments and new affordable housing units have been opened to help create a new vision of downtown Atlanta. (Source: UCLA Health Impact Assessment Clearinghouse Learning and Education Center and the Atlanta Beltline)