23 June 2006

Should population health studies be called HIAs?

I was reading through a report in today's Courier Mail (Brisbane, Australia) about an industrial estate in Queensland that's causing a bit of controversy. The local community has been concerned about the health impacts of a chemical fire that occurred in one of the estate's factories nine months ago, and the ongoing risks the industrial estate poses for their health.

In the article the Premier is reported as saying that a HIA will be undertaken as part of his plan for the site. The article isn't entirely clear about what the HIA will be done on - the impact of the fire nine months ago or the possible health impacts of relocating the four businesses identified by the government as being unsuitable for the industrial area. I get the impression that it's the former because it's described as "a full health impact assessment and full scientific study conducted with independent consultants".

This made me wonder, should this sort of activity be called HIA?

My gut response is that it shouldn't. It doesn't follow the steps of HIA and it doesn't necessarily involve looking at the determinants of health (instead often focusing on measuring health outcomes). This issue has come up in the past, with people calling a variety of population health-related research activities health impact assessment (see Kemm 2003, PDF 38Kb - particularly the discussion of retrospective and concurrent HIA).

What do you think about these sort of studies being called HIAs?

References
Kemm J. Perspectives on Health Impact Assessment, Bulletin of the World Health Organization 81(6):387. Available from http://www.who.int/entity/bulletin/volumes/81/6/kemm.pdf