Kansas Health Institute News Release
TOPEKA - As the Wichita City Council prepares for a June 2013 vote on proposed changes to the city's transit system, the Kansas Health Institute and the University of Kansas School of Medicine - Wichita are conducting a health impact assessment (HIA) to examine how those changes might affect the well-being of Wichita area residents.
In the summer of 2011, the City of Wichita and Wichita Transit System hired a consultant to conduct a community outreach study of needs and desired characteristics of transit in the Wichita area. This outreach included a series of stakeholder meetings, multiple public meetings, a survey of county residents and an online engagement tool. Results of the study were used to develop four transit concepts, which consist of three options for expansion and one to keep the current system.
The HIA will outline how each of the proposed mass transit concepts and a possible sales tax increase to pay for new transit options could affect the health of Wichita residents. Additionally, the HIA will explore issues that affect health, including jobs, economic activity, public safety, air quality, noise, physical activity, access to health care and community resources, and preventable hospitalization. As part of the HIA process, community input will be gathered during discussion meetings set for Dec. 11-12 at KUSM-Wichita and stakeholder interviews. Members of the Wichita City Council can use the HIA findings as they consider their June 2013 decision on the mass transit proposals, as the HIA is designed to provide information to assist them in making a decision.
"This HIA presents an opportunity to demonstrate how an issue such as public transportation can have an effect on the health of Kansans," said Robert F. St. Peter, M.D., KHI president and CEO. "By conducting a health impact assessment in Wichita, we hope to introduce more Kansans to the idea that many issues can affect health and help policymakers understand that health should be a factor in their decisions."
As the largest city in Kansas, Wichita is car-dependent with a score of 41 out of 100 for "walkability," which is a ranking based on the distance to community sites such as grocery stores, restaurants, banks, parks and schools. Based on 2011 Census Bureau estimates, Wichita makes up approximately 77 percent of the Sedgwick County population. The 2011 County Health Rankings show that Sedgwick County ranks 66th out of 105 Kansas counties in premature death and 72nd out of 105 counties in health outcomes and behaviors, placing it among the bottom half of Kansas counties.
Sedgwick County also has socio-economic challenges, with 8.7 percent of the population unemployed, 14 percent of residents living in poverty and 20 percent of children living in poverty. The expansion of the mass transit system in Wichita could affect existing health and economic concerns within the community.
HIAs are part of a fast-growing field in the United States. In 2007, there were only 27 such studies. Today, more than 200 HIAs have been completed or are ongoing. KHI completed the first HIA in Kansas earlier in 2012, and plans additional HIA projects as part of its mission to inform policymakers by identifying, producing, analyzing and communicating information that is timely, relevant and objective.
This HIA project is supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, and through support from the Kansas Health Foundation.
KHI is an independent, nonprofit health policy and research organization based in Topeka. It was established in 1995 with a multiyear grant from the Kansas Health Foundation.