Study: Many jurisdictions already evaluate impact of policy on health

Mold in substandard housing makes breathing hard for kids with asthma. Poorly planned streets and sidewalks make exercising outside, or swapping a drive for a walk, more difficult. Housing and transportation aren’t policy areas obviously related to health, but such decisions directly affect our well-being.

A study released earlier this month suggests that taking a holistic approach to policy, one that considers health in all decisions, may not be as hard as it sounds. A wide variety of laws already exist to allow what’s called health impact assessments, according to researchers at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. That kind of assessment looks at the impact a policy might have as a result of social, economic and environmental changes. The definition of health includes physical and psychological health and general well being.

The study, undertaken at the request of the Pew Health Group and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, looked at laws and rules in 36 jurisdictions, including states and cities and tribal and federal laws. Focusing on laws relating to energy, transportation, agriculture and waste disposal or recycling, researchers found many required a fairly broad evaluation of policy’s impact on health.

For instance, 22 out of the 36 jurisdictions evaluated, including California, use health assessments when making choices about environmental or energy policy. Seven jurisdictions require broad health assessments when making choices about agriculture or transportation and 11 use them when making choices about disposing of waste.

Organizations like the Institute of Medicine and the National Prevention Council started calling for a more health-centered approach in making decisions about policy and projects years ago, researchers note. Read the study here.

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