Conditions in the places where we live, work and play have a tremendous impact on Americans’ health. It is much easier to stay healthy when we can easily and safely walk, run or bike; when we have clean air, healthy food and access to affordable housing; and when we are safe from things like violent crime, fires and lead poisoning. Every day, policy makers in many sectors have opportunities to make choices that—if they took health into account—could help stem the growth of pressing health problems like obesity, injury, asthma and diabetes that have such a huge impact on our nation’s health care costs and on people’s quality of life.

Health impact assessment (HIA) is a fast-growing field that helps policy makers take advantage of these opportunities by bringing together scientific data, health expertise and public input to identify the potential—and often overlooked—health effects of proposed new laws, regulations, projects and programs. It offers practical recommendations for ways to minimize risks and capitalize on opportunities to improve health. HIA gives federal, tribal, state and local legislators, public agencies and other decision makers the information they need to advance smarter policies today to help build safe, thriving communities tomorrow.

The authoring committee of the National Research Council of the National Academies Improving Health in the United States: The Role of Health Impact Assessment defined HIA the following way:

"HIA is a systematic process that uses an array of data sources and analytic methods and considers input from stakeholders to determine the potential effects of a proposed policy, plan, program, or project on the health of a population and the distribution of those effects within the population. HIA provides recommendations on monitoring and managing those effects."

Health impact assessment:

  • looks at health from a broad perspective that considers social, economic and environmental influences;
  • brings community members, business interests and other stakeholders together, which can help build consensus;
  • acknowledges the trade-offs of choices under consideration and offers decision makers comprehensive information and practical recommendations to maximize health gains and minimize adverse effects;
  • puts health concerns in the context of other important factors when making a decision; and
  • considers whether certain impacts may affect vulnerable groups of people in different ways.