Our environment contributes to our overall health: Where we live, where we work, and where we play all make a difference in our well-being. Yet avoidable factors influence these areas of our lives and may have a negative impact on the health of certain populations. For example, living in an area with no access to grocery stores that stock affordable, healthful foods can affect obesity rates, the incidence of diabetes, and other conditions that that are directly affected by a better diet. These “food deserts” are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color. The Health Impact Project seeks to reduce such health inequities and improve the health of all people using tools such as the health impact assessment (HIA).
As part of its efforts to increase the use of HIAs, and the consideration of health in non-health decision-making (e.g., housing, transportation, education), the Health Impact Project is committed to building capacity across organizations to use the tool through technical assistance and training. One such training event took place Dec. 3 and 4, 2015, in Washington. The Health Impact Project, with funding from the de Beaumont Foundation, convened 27 representatives from local health departments, including 21 staff members from Big Cities Health Coalition, for a workshop led by the Georgia Health Policy Center. The workshop was designed to provide tools and techniques to help participants plan and execute HIAs in their communities.
Most attendees were nominated by their health commissioners and were selected based on their experience and dedication to collaboration and relationship-building with partners from different sectors. Those selected also expressed a commitment to working with communities and an interest in conducting HIAs or finding other means to integrate health into decision-making.
The two-day agenda included sessions on health equity, social determinants of health (i.e., societal factors), and step-by-step guidance for planning and conducting an HIA. Participants were highly engaged with the training, said they found it valuable and relevant to their jobs, and seemed eager to put what they learned into practice.
Participant Will Nicholas, director of the Health Impact Evaluation Center at Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health, explained, “In Los Angeles, the lack of affordable housing is a huge issue, and we want to assess the health impacts of housing policies. So I was particularly excited that one of the case study exercises was based on an affordable housing policy HIA the trainers had conducted. It gave me a lot of great ideas to take home with me.”
At the end of the workshop, participants defined realistic next steps for incorporating new skills and perspectives into their ongoing processes and future proposals.
As a follow-up to the training, the Health Impact Project will host a webinar to help participants seeking to implement the strategies and tactics they learned in Washington.
Amber Lenhart and Rebecca Morley work on the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.