With support from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, the Health Impact Project will fund four new health impact assessments, or HIAs, in Minnesota.
Over the next year, each awardee will conduct an HIA, which is a study that helps policymakers identify and address the potential, often overlooked health implications of policy proposals in a broad range of sectors —for example, agriculture, transportation energy, land use, and development.
- The city of Cloquet, in partnership with Arrowhead Regional Development Commission and Carlton County Public Health and Human Services, will conduct an HIA to inform revisions to the transportation section of its comprehensive plan, which guides the city’s physical, social, and economic development. The HIA will look at the potential positive and negative health impacts of the transportation projects and policies in the plan that addresses, for example, street construction, redevelopment, and traffic speeds. The assessment will make recommendations to maximize health benefits, such as prioritizing projects that increase opportunities for physical activity, in turn affecting chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Similarly, the HIA will seek to provide guidance to the city on how to mitigate transportation-related health risks, such as vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian accidents and injuries.
- Goodhue County Health and Human Services, in partnership with the Goodhue County Land Use Management Department, will conduct an HIA to inform decisions around the county’s zoning districts. The assessment will provide information on the potential health benefits resulting from the creation of bike and walking trails in recreational areas, as well as the possible negative impacts caused by construction industrial operations, such as more cases of respiratory illnesses related to increased traffic. The HIA will also consider the potential impact of housing displacement on residents’ mental health if land-use changes require relocation.
- The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, or MPCA, will conduct an HIA that addresses the threat by the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle destroying Minnesota’s 930 million ash trees, to inform policy development and program implementation by the city of St. Paul. Research shows strong links between tree cover and a range of health impacts; for example, trees filter pollutants and, in turn, improve air quality and lower rates of respiratory illnesses. Additionally, an urban tree canopy is one of the most important ways to reduce the risk of health complications during a heat wave, such as asthma, dehydration, heat stroke, and cardiovascular-related deaths. The HIA will also examine pesticide-use policies to minimize health impacts related to exposure. The MPCA and city of St. Paul will use the findings to inform decisions on how to manage the ash borer, including, for example, which neighborhoods should be prioritized for interventions and which pest management strategy is most appropriate given baseline health risks in each area.
- The Public Health Law Center Inc. will conduct an HIA to examine the ways in which decisions about school location and building design can affect health to inform revisions to the Minnesota Department of Education’s school construction and siting guidelines. School design features important to health could include improvements to bike and pedestrian access that increase opportunities for physical activity and reduce the risk of injury; indoor air quality that reduces the risk of respiratory problems such as asthma; and the availability of facilities to store and prepare fresh, healthy food options, which can affect students’ diets and the risk of problems such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes. School facilities can also offer health-related benefits through supporting other uses, such as shelters in the case of emergencies and facilities for community exercise programs. The HIA will provide evidence-based recommendations on how to locate, design, and manage school facilities in a way that maximizes student learning while also supporting improved health for community members.
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