Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Tool Created to Assess Health Impacts of Development Decisions in Ingham County, Michigan

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Tool Created to Assess Health Impacts of Development Decisions in Ingham County, Michigan

Article excerpt


This case study highlights Ingham County Health Department (ICHD) in Lansing, Michigan, which teamed up with diverse partners to begin an environmental health assessment, leading to the development of innovative tools such as a Health Impact Planning Matrix. This effort was considered vital after survey data reflected a negative trend in health status in the region. Additionally, through the environmental health assessment process, citizens called for improvements in the environment, growth, traffic, and overall quality of life. The capital area of Lansing and surrounding metro area is a Tri-County region of nearly 500,000 people (Ingham, Clinton, and Eaton counties). In this region, population growth and development has shifted over the past 15 years from the urban centers to the rural farmlands. This major expansion of urbanized areas led to mass changes in land use and corresponding health consequences for urban, suburban, and rural residents.


The northern portion of the region is one of the most sprawling in the U.S. This region has witnessed a dramatic increase in traffic fatalities and injuries, vehicle miles traveled, air pollutants, and health disparities. Other consequences include increased reliance on automobiles, larger distances between homes and destinations, and reduced engagement in physical activity, which increase the risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. A 2003-2004 survey conducted by a firm for ICHD (using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] protocols) revealed that about 30% of the population in the northern capital area is physically inactive (Clearwater Research, Inc., 2004). This is far from the Healthy People 2010 goal of 10%. A relatively high incidence of hypertension also exists in the area population. Overall, about 60% of residents are overweight and obese. Obesity exceeds 20%, and diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death. Nationally, 2003-2004 data show that 66% of adults are overweight and obese, and 32% are considered obese (CDC, 2004). With such negative health trends, ICHD wanted to develop a strategy that comprehensively addressed these health issues. Thus, the land use plan these health issues. Thus, the land use planning and health initiative was formed.

Land Use Planning and Health Initiative

The land use planning and health initiative is based on a successful strategy used in the environmental health assessment process led by ICHD in the Tri-County region. This assessment process was comprehensive, diverse, and community-driven. The land use planning and health initiative was also formed because of strong community concerns that arose at town meetings of the regional growth project (RGP). The RGP was a visioning and implementation project conducted by the regional planning commission through surveys of the Tri-County region. Residents felt very strongly about their built and natural environments. They expressed concern about impacts of growth on the environment, particularly degradation of water quality and air pollution. Community members felt that the current sprawling approach to development was undesirable and wanted to see greater redevelopment in the city of Lansing, rather than developing on larger parcels of land outside the city. Residents also indicated that along with family, work, and recreation, their environment is "very important" (78%, highest category) to them. Another local survey showed that the community felt a strong positive correlation between community health, environmental quality, and social factors such as "trust of others (Clearwater Research, Inc., 2004)."

The Team

ICHD recognized early on that this comprehensive initiative should involve more than just Ingham County. Five years ago, as a first step to increasing the health department's role and kicking off the land use planning and health initiative, ICHD formed a regional land use and health resource team. …

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