Table 1

Definitions and characteristics of “health impact assessment” (HIA) as a “concept”, “process”, and “tool” to promote “evidence based policy making”

“Health impact assessment is a means of evidence based policy making for improvement in health. It is a combination of methods whose aim is to assess the health consequences to a population of a policy, project, or programme that does not necessarily have health as its primary objective.”Lock (2000)2
“Health impact assessment is defined as any combination of procedures or methods by which a proposed policy or program may be judged as to the effects it may have on the health of a population.”Frankish et al (1996)8
“HIA can best be described as a decision-making tool, one that is designed to take account of the wide range of potential effects that a given proposal may have on the health of its target population. Thus, it is a process that: 

  • considers the scientific evidence about the relationships between a proposed policy, programme or project and the health of a population;

  • takes account of the opinions, experience and expectations of those who may be affected by a proposed policy decision;

  • highlights and analyses the potential health impact of the proposed policy decision;

  • enables decision makers to make fully informed decisions and to maximise positive and minimise negative health impacts; and,

  • enables consideration of effects on health inequalities.”

UK National Health Service (2001)7
“HIA is a developing approach that can help to identify and consider the potential—or actual—health impacts of a proposal on a population. Its primary output is a set of evidence-based recommendations geared to informing the decision making process.”Taylor and Quigley (2002)11
“HIA provides a structured framework to map the full range of health consequences of any proposal, whether these are negative or positive. It helps clarify the expected health implications of a given action, and of any alternatives being considered, for the population groups affected by the proposal. It allows health to be considered early in the process of policy development and so helps ensure that health impacts are not overlooked.”WHO, European Region (2002)6
Scope: variously categorised along a continuum, ranging from “mini” or “rapid”, to “intermediate” or “standard”, on up to “comprehensive” and “long term”
Timescale: prospective, concurrent, retrospective
Type of data: qualitative and/or quantitative; epidemiological and/or ethnographic