By Katrina Forrest

Poor health is not only physically and emotionally taxing for individuals, but there are important economic implications—these include increased costs to the healthcare system associated with the diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions and lost time and productivity in the workforce.  While access to quality healthcare is without question a necessity, prevention is key.

Research indicates that there are a myriad of factors outside of the traditional health scope that shape health-related behaviors.  If we are to promote health and prevent disease, we must carefully consider and analyze all of the factors that impact health outcomes.  Economic sectors such as housing, transportation and agriculture can have profound impacts on the health and well-being of individuals and communities and yet these impacts are often not sufficiently evaluated.

As the District of Columbia continues to grow, with new development projects emerging every day, it is imperative that we assess how these projects positively or negatively affect the health of our residents.  By utilizing health impact assessments, we are able to better understand and identify the potentially significant unknown, unrecognized or unexpected health effects of policies, plans and projects across diverse economic sectors.

Health impact assessments rely on quantitative, qualitative and participatory techniques, to determine health impacts, the distribution of those impacts within communities and identify mitigation strategies to address adverse effects.  For example, in Washington State, legislation was enacted in 2007 to require a health impact assessment to examine the impact of a bridge replacement project on air quality, carbon emissions and other public health issues.

Recognizing the value of this tool, Councilmember Grosso introduced the Health Impact Assessment Program Establishment Act of 2015 .  This legislation establishes a health impact assessment program within the Department of Health to ensure that we are properly evaluating the potential health effects of construction and development projects on our residents and the communities they call home.

Implementing this comprehensive approach here in D.C. would help to promote sustainable development, improve and reduce health inequities, encourage cross-sectoral collaboration, and inspire a greater appreciation for public health in the policymaking process.   Grosso is committed to improving the health and wellness of every D.C. resident and this legislation is a critical step to accomplish that goal.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.