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Health Impact Assessment

What is a Health Impact Assessment (HIA)?

An HIA is “a combination of procedures, methods and tools by which a policy, program or project may be judged as to its potential effects on the health of a population, and the distribution of those effects within the population” (Gothenburg Consensus). In other words, the HIA is a toolbox that public health planners and researchers use to see what sort of health effects may occur in a community or neighborhood where a project or policy takes.

For more general information on HIAs, please refer to our Frequently Asked Questions page.


Humboldt Bay/Eureka. Credit: US Army Corps of Engineers.

How and where have HIAs been used in Humboldt County?

To date, one project has been evaluated for impacts to community health. In March 2008, the Sketch Plan Alternatives of the ongoing Humboldt County General Plan Update (GPU) were reviewed for potential impacts to community health using a subset of indicators taken from the Humboldt Healthy Development Measurement Tool. A GPU HIA Report was produced that explains the findings of the assessment. The process was conducted by County of Humboldt Public Health Branch, HumPAL, and Human Impact Partners (HIP). 

GPUs are state-mandated policy planning documents that guide land use and growth over a 15 -20 year horizon for a jurisdiction. The Humboldt GPU contains three alternative scenarios - A, B, and C.  Alternative A is "environmentally preferred" alternative as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The HIA study concluded that Alternative A (which emphasizes "focused growth") is also the preferred health scenario. More information on the GPU Alternative scenarios can be found at the plan overview web page.

Humboldt GPU: HIA Summary of Findings  [PDF, 918Kb]
The complete HIA document is available for download.

What are the steps in any HIA? Presentation - July 28th, 2010

Noelle Melchizedek, HumPAL Senior Planner, attended the "Health Impact Assessment Practitioner's Training Course" in San Francisco from June 22-25, 2010. The comprehensive training was conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), a leader in the development and application of health impact assessments. Noelle shared what she learned about the HIA process, from initial scoping through evaluating the success of a completed assessment, as well as data collection tools and communication methods. Noelle's presentation was well-attended by HumPAL staff, Public Health staff and officials, planners, and representatives from other community organizations interested in promoting active living and other facets of public health and wellness.

Overview: SFPHD Health Impact Assessment Practitioner's Training - Noelle Melchizedek, HumPAL [PDF, 300KB]

Humboldt GPU HIA Report: Articles and Citations

Environmental Justice Case Study

A case study on the Humboldt County GPU HIA Report and process was published in 2009 in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Justice, Volume 2, Number 3, in 2009. The article is titled “Humboldt County General Plan Update Health Impact Assessment: A Case Study.” The article was authored by E. Celia Harris, Ann Lindsay, Jonathan C. Heller, Kim Gihuly, Melanie Williams, Brian Cox, and Jennifer Rice.

Basic Abstract

The Health Impact Assessment (HIA) planning tool shows a great deal of promise as a planning tool to address environmental justice and equal access to healthful living. Humboldt County, located on the North Coast of California, is in the process of updating its General Plan, the guiding policy document that shapes policy in the County for 20 years. There are three development plans, each with a specific guiding vision, to accommodate future population growth. The HIA was applied to the prospective plans and successfully identified and analyzed the potential health benefits and costs associated with each plan. At this time, the general plan update is not complete, but the HIA has already helped raise awareness of health impacts associated with planning – one of its primary goals. In addition, the HIA effort spurred the development of the Rural Healthy Development Measurement Tool (HDMT), a planning tool that allows health to be a factor in rural development decisions.

APA Citation

Harris, E., Lindsay, A., Heller, J., Gihuly, K., Williams, M., Cox, B., & Rice, J. (2009). Humboldt county general plan update health impact assessment: a case study. Environmental Justice, 2(3), 127-134.

About the Journal of Environmental Justice

The Journal of Environmental Justice is a leading peer-reviewed scientific journal and serves as “the central forum for the research, debate, and discussion of the equitable treatment and involvement of all people, especially minority and low-income populations, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Other Articles

No sprawl behind the redwood curtain. Jon Beslow. The Eureka Times-Standard. May 6, 2008.

Health impact assessment raises ire among development community. Jessie Faulkner. The Eureka Times-Standard, September 3, 2008.

Officials present Humboldt County's health impact assessment at national conference in D.C. The Eureka Times-Standard. March 7, 2010.