By Katherine Hebert and Kate Wilson
(Originally published on 08/27/14)
The Southeastern Health Impact Assessment Summit was held July 30-August 1, drawing HIA practitioners from around the Southeast region. The key objectives of the Summit were to build capacity for doing HIA in the Southeast by offering training opportunities, to highlight the progress made in conducting HIAs in the region, and to bring new and experienced HIA practitioners together to share their perspectives, challenges, and knowledge. Conference attendees gained a thorough understanding of the HIA process and purpose, an idea of where HIA is being done in the region and throughout the nation, knowledge of where to go for HIA funding and technical assistance, and new relationships with fellow HIA practitioners. Plenary panel discussions at the Summit covered varied topics, including an opening discussion on the state of the Region, a session on Using Health Equity to Promote HIA in the South, and a session on Available Funding and Technical Support of HIA.
In many ways the Southeast faces different challenges than the rest of the nation which in turn affect the HIAs done in the region. For example, in terms of public health and chronic disease prevention, you are working in an area that considers deep fried corn nuggets a vegetable, and where it’s hot and humid at least a quarter of the year making outdoor recreation difficult. Politically speaking, you may be working in an extremely conservative area where health is considered a personal problem and getting any type of political support for public health is an uphill battle, much less trying to incorporate HIA and a health in all policies approach. In terms of planning, you might be trying to make changes to an environment shaped by over five decades of suburban sprawl and red lining. Because in many ways the challenges are greater and the cultural norms are so different than the rest of the nation, conducting HIAs in the Southeast has a different flavor while maintaining the overall substance of the HIAprocess and values. The Southeast Regional HIA Summit is unique compared to other national HIA meetings because it brings all these different “flavors” together and focuses on meeting the needs of those doing or attempting to do HIA in this region to address these unique and often overwhelming health challenges.
As a result of the Summit, a new group, the Southeast Regional HIA Collaborative, has formed to share ideas and information on HIA within the region. This group intends to aid the work of national HIA groups such as the Society of Practitioners of HIA. Future Southeast Regional HIA summits will be held in various cities around the southeast to foster a greater awareness of HIA throughout the region.