Making decisions using a “health” lens

Lexi Nolen explains the reasoning behind EHF's new Health Impact Assessment partnership. See how two new projects will look at how city planning decisions affect community health.

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Lexi Nolen, EHF’s VP for Impact
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From the V1SION Blog:

The most efficient and effective way to improve health in our society and to invest in health is to build a “health lens” into our thinking in all that we do. Communities need to better understand how non-health decisions are likely to impact health.

EHF recently funded Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES) Built Environment & Health Impact Assessment Unit to undertake two Health Impact Assessments. This initiative will support decision makers in the City of Pasadena and in East Aldine to identify and prioritize healthy planning, design, and development projects. This grant falls within EHF’s healthy planning work, and signals our commitment to expanding the way we all understand investments in community health. The projects are in partnership with the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

EHF recognizes that health begins in our homes, places of worship, schools, neighborhoods and workplaces. Too often, we are making decisions that have negative health consequences and create those avoidable outcomes for our families, consumers, employees, or residents. We’re content to pass the buck to someone else’s health care bills, or to allow illnesses or injuries to go unaddressed, with all of the effects that brings. When we become too comfortable with passing the health impact buck to someone else, we see the crisis levels of obesity, back pain, and mental stress that now surround us. And so we look for more ways the health care system can pick up the pieces after the fact, rather than focusing on preventing the problem. The cycle continues and is reinforced.

Investing in health care services at the expense of prevention also creates financial losses for family budgets, businesses and government due to lost work time and productivity, spending on public and nonprofit social services related to avoidable injuries and illnesses or their effects, countless volunteer hours, and of course all of the administrative and transactional costs associated with those services.

HCPHES’s Pasadena and East Aldine projects will explore ways to incorporate health into current and future community plans through healthy community design. The projects will focus on enhancing the safety and wellness of the community through changes to the built environment. This can include increasing sidewalks and trails, improving access to green space, and promoting a sense of community. Each of those can increase physical activity and social exchange, and improve environmental quality, which lead to better mental health, reduced injuries and respiratory illnesses, and prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

Healthy planning work is critical to moving towards prevention, supporting people to engage healthy behaviors, and help us invest in community health in more effective ways. We hope HCPHES’s efforts will lead others to see the value of, and then adopt, healthy planning efforts in their own communities.

To request more information about these HCPES projects, please email