Davidson hosts second health impact assessment summit

DAVIDSON – At the end of the month, community planners and public health officials from Florida to Texas and up through West Virginia will gather in Davidson to learn how to consider health impacts in all facets of town planning.

The second Southeast Regional Health Impact Assessment Summit will be held July 30–Aug. 1 at Davidson College and is hosted by Davidson Design For Life, a town initiative that helps foster a healthy community through health impact assessments, public participation and collaboration efforts.

“It brings the topic of health to the table and consideration is not just on economics, but a broader context,” said DD4L Coordinator Katherine Hebert.

While online registration has closed for the full conference, the public is invited to the keynote address by Michael Skipper 10:30-11:45 a.m. July 31. Registration costs $15 and includes light refreshments. To register, go to www.healthimpactnc.com/summit.

Skipper, a certified planner from the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, will discuss establishing performance measures and scoring criteria for health outcomes in the Nashville MPO's 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, creating funding opportunities for active transportation and the value of conducting health impact assessments for transportation planning.

That topic has been priority on Davidson’s own health impact assessments, including looking at alternative modes of transportation like commuter rail and considering street design to ensure people can walk or cycle, have multiple route options or that cars aren't idling and contributing more to air pollution.

Funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, DD4L has also done assessments related to state congressional bills about garage and porch placement to encourage getting to know neighbors while not blocking sidewalks. They have also looked at health impacts of the town’s parks and recreational master plan as well as assuring people in wheelchairs or with canes have access to visit others by considering no step entrances and wider doorways. 

This year the group is working on establishing food systems to ensure residents have easy food access through ample grocery stores and that too many unhealthy options, from fast food to liquor stores, aren’t close together.

“Davidson doesn’t have that big of problem because there are a lot of grocery stores in town, as well as Cornelius, Huntersville and even Mooresville,” Hebert said. “We also have one of the few farmers markets that takes the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) card. But it’s making sure people take advantage of the healthy food, community gardens and gardens at schools. We are working a lot with churches and food banks.”

DD4L is getting ready for the 2015 update to the town's award-winning Comprehensive Master Plan to make it more health conscious and is doing an analysis on worksite wellness in partnership with a student at UNC Charlotte.

HIAs can be enacted through federal or state policy, but local communities complete the majority of the health impact assessments, Hebert said, which is why the summit is important for those just starting out in the process or others who want to share experiences.

Hebert said they keep the summit to the Southeast region because it has its own set of challenges as compared to other places.

“The area is one of the highest in obesity, heart disease, cancer and stroke,” Hebert said.  “It’s been consistently high over the last 20-30 years and the region needs assistance."