I once lamented about health care reform being just health insurance reform, not going nearly far enough in addressing the myriad of ways where we live, work, and play impact our health.There were some interesting public health pilot projects, but nothing that would institutionalize these kind of systems-level changes across the board.
So, I was incredibly, incredibly excited to see the recently introduced HeLP (Health Lifestyles and Prevention) America Act. Trust for America’s Health provides a great summary of the Act’s provisions.
The Act literally addresses aspects of where we live, work, and play – school and community gardens, changes to facilitate stair use in federal workplaces, mitigating unfair junk food advertising directed at kids, and more. It is quite nutrition/fitness focused, and of course there some major gaps yet to be filled. But it’s an exciting start. Health literacy even gets a mention. But my favorite provision is definitely this:
“Health in all policies: Requires HHS to conduct a health impact assessment of major non-health legislative proposals and to detail staff to other departments to assist them with consideration of health impacts of their activities.”
As is often the case, other countries are leading the way on this. One example is UK’s mandatory health impact assessment. I think such impact assessment is a really important step towards institutionalizing an integrative, preventive, systems-level approach to improving health. I don’t know the details, but I’m pretty sure a broad range of policies in the U.S. undergo environmental impact assessments. Health should absolutely be assessed too. Let’s think about health when we’re debating parks and public transportation, guns and grenades, schools and housing. It’ll lead to smarter policies that shape where we live, work, and play in better – more healthy – ways.