New Tool Helps Bring Health Evidence to Policy Decisions

Users can search and sort more than 400 health impact assessments

New Tool Helps Bring Health Evidence to Policy Decisions

Government and business decisions about policies, programs, and projects related to housing, transportation, and education can affect the health of people and communities. Decision-makers, however, often do not understand or adequately account for the relationship between the choices they make in these and other sectors and public health outcomes.

Health impact assessments (HIAs) are one way to bring health evidence to such decisions, and the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, recently launched a data visualization to help people draw information from the more than 400 assessments conducted across the U.S. in the past two decades.

HIA is a process that uses evidence and engages stakeholders to help communities, policymakers, and others identify the potential health impact of decisions; how those impacts might disproportionately affect different racial, income, geographic, and other groups; and how those factors can influence health outcomes. The assessments inform policymakers about the potential health impact of their decisions and can highlight ways to increase health benefits—and avoid unintended negative consequences.

The data visualization is part of a cross-sector toolkit, launched in 2019, that includes resources—such as tools, guides, datasets, and other research—to help communities, agencies, and other organizations take action to improve public health. The recent update builds on the HIA database maintained by the Health Impact Project. Based on user feedback, the new version allows people to create tailored maps and charts to show and explore what types of organizations are leading HIAs, the location of the projects, and the different topics the assessments inform.  

The data visualization is updated periodically and can provide users with several layers of information. For example, a community-based organization interested in conducting an HIA to examine the connections between agricultural decisions and health could quickly find the location and topics of HIAs completed on food and nutrition. Among those policies could be farm-to-school procurement practices, corporate farming laws, or agricultural zoning.

A local government searching for other entities that have HIA experience in the same state could examine the number of projects undertaken there to review what types of organizations have led the HIAs and then click through to individual assessments to read the reports, see contact information, and more. 

The data visualization allows users to explore and tailor the available information based on sectors, such as housing, transportation, and education; drivers of health addressed, such as access to healthy foods and income; affected populations; research methodology; and the decision-making level, such as local, regional, or state. For each layer, users can dig deeper by choosing filters that provide visuals of the decision-making level, community type, funding source, organization type, and date of publication.

The toolkit and new data visualization can help practitioners, communities, agencies, and other organizations act to improve public health and develop evidence-based recommendations to address differences in distribution of health risks.

Bethany Rogerson is a senior manager, Mimi Majumdar Narayan is a principal associate, and Dasha Dokshina is an associate with the Health Impact Project.

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The Health Impact Project’s toolkit contains resources that help communities, agencies, and other organizations take action to improve public health. The toolkit offers a collection of health impact assessments, guides, and other research to support policymakers’ efforts to consider health when making decisions across sectors, such as housing, planning, and education.

View the toolkit