HIA is a decision support tool, providing information on the potential health impacts of a policy, plan, project, or program to decision makers (commonly outside of the health sector) prior to the decision being made. The intention of doing an HIA is to encourage public participation in a democratic, decision-making process when feasible, and to bring the potential health impacts (whether positive or negative) to the attention of decision-makers who then have to weigh this information with other factors of the decision being made.
The Health Impact Assessment can be used to choose between potential alternatives identified by stakeholders or to make recommendations of ways a proposal can be improved to limit harmful health impacts and promote positive health outcomes.
HIA is a democratic process used to promote health in all policies and incorporates a broad definition of health and the social determines of health to promote health equity. HIAs have been done all over the United States starting in the early 1990’s on a wide variety of topics including transportation projects and plans, economic policy, housing and redevelopment projects, agricultural and nutrition policies, energy and sustainable growth plans, and many more.
Each HIA is different and the beauty of the practice of HIA is that as long as the overall process is followed, the data sources and analytic methods used can be changed to meet the needs of each HIA.
The process of doing an HIA consists of six steps which are fluid and can be returned to at any time during the overall process.