new type of health study under way in douglas county
February 08, 2012
How can you help ensure that cities and neighborhoods are built in ways that make it easier for people to be healthy? The Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) has begun to address this question locally, thanks to a three-year, $419,250 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Community Design Initiative.
DCHD is one of six entities across the country to receive funding to conduct health impact assessments in their communities, said Andy Wessel, a community health planner with DCHD. Local grant partners are the City of Omaha, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency and Omaha by Design.
A health impact assessment, or an HIA, is used to objectively evaluate the potential health effects of a project or policy before it’s built or implemented. It can provide recommendations to increase positive health outcomes and minimize adverse health outcomes.
The HIA framework is used to bring potential public health impacts and considerations to the decision-making process for plans, projects and policies that fall outside of traditional public health arenas, such as transportation and land use. “Our goal is to make it easier for people to lead healthy lives by including health as a factor in local community design decision making,” said Dr. Adi Pour, health director for DCHD.
The funding will allow DCHD to conduct three HIAs per year throughout the grant cycle. The HIAs will cover plans, projects and policies related to housing/land use, transportation and parks/public spaces.
Work has already begun on launching the first HIA in conjunction with the public visioning process for Adams Park. The process was initiated by the City of Omaha Department of Parks, Recreation and Public Property last March. The resulting vision for Adams Park calls for:
- Expanding the park so it extends to 30th Street and Maple Street
- Expanding/enhancing the community center to serve as an urban farming and community gardening center
- Building new walking and cycling paths
- Increasing the number of picnic pavilions and adding an adventure playscape and a multi-purpose field
- Replacing the softball fields with wetlands
- Increasing the number of access points into the park
“We’ll be looking at how the changes proposed for Adams Park may affect the health of the nearby community,” Wessel said. “For example, the vision of creating an urban farming and community gardening center could have a positive impact on the surrounding area by making fruits and vegetables more available and affordable.”
Once the HIA is complete, the information will be shared with the parks department so it can be considered as the project moves toward implementation.
In addition to the HIAs, the grant is allowing DCHD to conduct two trainings per year for public health and planning personnel on the benefits of healthy community design and the use of HIAs. DCHD is also establishing a Healthy Community Design Partnership to help oversee the grant activities, disseminate HIA recommendations to the appropriate agencies and advocate for policy or infrastructure developments stemming from HIA findings, Wessel said.
For more information about health impact assessments, visit www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/hia.htm. For more information about DCHD’s local HIA efforts, contact Wessel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402.444.7225.