Farming and Community Health


How does the protection of farmland correlate to the health of a community? Kane County, Illinois is working to find out.

Over the past ten years, their farmland protection program has preserved over 5500 acres of farmland in the county and they are currently considering a new amendment to broaden investments in local food production. New investments would include small farms and organic farmers producing fruits, vegetables and meats, intended to increase availability of fresh produce in schools, farmers markets, corner stores, and other sites in the community.

Enter the Health Impact Project. HIP is a project funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund Health Impact Assessments (HIA) that will be used to inform policies at any level of government. Kane County won funding from this project and is expected to produce their HIA next month with measurements from their community. The HIA will assess the ways in which their new amendment could affect the health of local residents through, for example, changes in availability and price of fresh fruits and vegetables, food safety, and economic changes resulting from increased food production in the region.

HIAs are conducted by a panel of stakeholders in the community to ensure that they are engaged in considering health and health disparities with any given policy. The assessment is completed in six steps:
A Health Impact Assessment has six steps:

  1. Screening: Determines the need and value of a HIA;
  2. Scoping: Determines which health impacts to evaluate, the methods for analysis, and the work plan for completing the assessment;
  3. Assessment: Provides: a) profile of existing health conditions, and b) evaluation of health impacts;
  4. Recommendations: Provides strategies to manage identified adverse health impacts;
  5. Reporting: Includes development of the HIA report and communication of findings and recommendations; and
  6. Monitoring: Tracks impacts of the HIA on decision making processes and the decision, as well as impacts of the decision on health determinants.

Kane County hopes to use this assessment to inform the debate surrounding their new amendment, hoping that they will find it could lead to improved health.

The Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley is doing similar work much closer to home. They created a forum process where they engaged stakeholder organizations from the Valley to discuss their input on community health, and held two series of meetings. In the second set of meetings, they were able to bring back results and analysis from the first round. Participants in the forums were asked what they thought the biggest health concerns in the region were, what would help their community become healthier and what leads to health problems in their area. They were asked follow up questions to these in the second round of meetings.

In these public meetings held last fall, they found that the health care system and services are fragmented, that there is a lack of communication and connection between the community and care providers as well as poverty, lack of jobs and language differences being barriers of access to medical resources. There were also positive findings, the community responded that the local health care providers care about the community and were willing to listen to their needs as well as looking for short and long term solutions to improve community health. Their Community Health Profile breaks down their findings and the particular issues in each city, and can be found here.

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Posted on May 30, 2013, in Food, Health, Municipal Government, Neighborhoods, Regions, State Policy, Trends, Water and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. One of the key reasons to use HIAs is also one of the points of the LV Health Council’s report, ‘The Road to Health': prevention is a lot better than treatment. Not only does prevention cost less, it eases human suffering and premature death. [Of course, this assumes that policymakers & elected officials are willing to follow the Precautionary Principle and place people's health ahead of short-term gain.]

    One key factor that harms human health seems to have been omitted in The Road to Health report: most of the food from the industrialized food system actually undermines our health instead of supporting it. This isn’t only a matter of calories or vitamins or the other items listed on the ‘Nutrition Facts’ labels. Those are important but the use of high-fructose corn syrup & genetically-modified crops — most of which have never been tested! — are undermining everyone’s health.

    Even worse, the industry relies on toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, & endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These not only pollute the air, soil, & water where the food is grown — they also are IN the food, and some of them won’t show up until the next generation.

    You can find some good references to these on the Alliance’s website.

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