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Review of health impact assessments informing agriculture, food, and nutrition policies, programs, and projects in the United States

August 02, 2017
Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development

Krycia Cowling, Ruth Lindberg, Roni A. Neff, Keshia M. Pollack

Policies, programs, and projects related to agriculture, food, and nutrition can significantly affect public health. Health impact assessment (HIA) is one tool that can be used to improve awareness of the health effects of decisions outside the health sector, and increasing the use of HIA for agriculture, food, and nutrition decisions presents an opportunity to improve public health. This study identifies and reviews all HIAs completed in the United States on agriculture, food, and nutrition topics. Studies were identified from HIA databases, an Internet search, and expert consultation. Key characteristics were extracted from each study: type of decision assessed, location, level of jurisdiction, lead organization, methods of analysis, and recommendations. Twenty-five eligible HIAs that were conducted between 2007 and 2016 address topics such as regulations on land use for agriculture; food and beverage taxes; and developing grocery stores in food deserts. These HIAs have predominantly supported policy, as opposed to program or project, decisions. Four case studies are presented to illustrate in detail the HIA process and the mechanisms through which HIA findings affected policy decisions. Among other influences, these four HIAs affected the language of legislation and provided guidance for federal regulations. These examples demonstrate several findings: appropriate timing is critical for findings to have an influence; diverse stakeholder involvement generates support for recommendations; and the clear communication of feasible recommendations is highly important. There is substantial scope to increase the use of HIA in the agriculture, food, and nutrition sectors. Challenges include the paucity of monitoring and evaluation of HIAs’ effects on health outcomes, and the limited funding available to conduct HIAs. Opportunities include integrating HIAs and community food assessments, and more widely sharing HIA findings to inform related decisions in different jurisdictions and to increase support for additional HIAs that address the food system.

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