Health impact assessment should be based on correct methods

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Carla Ancona
Giorgio Assennato
Fabrizio Bianchi
Annibale Biggeri
Ennio Cadum
Dario Consonni
Francesco Forastiere
Andrea Ranzi


Health impact assessment; epidemiology; public health


The methodology of health impact assessment (HIA), originally proposed by WHO, is widely used to predict the potential health effects in a community living in a place in which a new project (e.g., an industrial plant) will be implemented. One of the key quantities to calculate the impact (i.e., the number of attributable cases) is the baseline (i.e., before the project implementation) rate of selected diseases in the community. In a recent paper on this journal, this methodology has been challenged. Specifically, the use of baseline rate has been questioned, proposing to use only the fraction of the baseline rate due to the exposures related to the project, and not the rate due to all risk factors for the
disease. In this commentary, we argue that the proposal is logically and epidemiologically unsound, and devoid of scientific motivation. The conclusion that the traditional approach overestimates the health impact should be rejected as based on flawed assumptions. On the contrary, the proposal may produce a (seriously biased) underestimation of attributable cases.

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