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Is Your City Helping You Be Healthy? The Rankings Are In


June 8, 2018
Mattie Quinn
Governing Magazine

“Most people spend a few hours a year in the doctor’s office. The other 364 days out of the year, people are in the care of their city.”

That’s according to Loel Solomon, vice president of community health at Kaiser Permanente. Together with the de Beaumont Foundation, his organization examined the 40 largest cities to see how well they’re helping residents live their healthiest lives. They looked at things like paid sick leave policies and whether people can bike or walk to work.

“Your mayor, city council and city manager has just as much of an impact on your health as your doctor,” he says.

On Friday, during the opening night of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual meeting in Boston, 24 cities will be awarded for their work in population health. The gold medalists are Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Jose, Calif. Nine cities earned a silver medal, and 11 earned a bronze.

The cities were each judged on nine policy areas: affordable housing, alcohol regulations, walkability, paid sick leave, food safety, healthy food options, universal pre-K, smoke-free places and the smoking age. (NIEER analyzed city pre-K policies for the CityHealth Initiative based on the State of Preschool quality standards benchmarks)

To get a gold medal, cities had to show that they have implemented several policies addressing each of those issues. A silver medal went to cities that made strides in five of the policy areas, and a bronze went to cities that had made strides in four. For example, in order to earn a gold medal for earned sick leave, a city must mandate that all businesses allow employees at least two days a year for sick time or to care for a family member.

While some of the policies seem obvious as influential on health, others — like universal pre-K and affordable housing — are less explicitly so. But according to Solomon, access to both is foundational to a healthy community.

“These policies aren’t just nice things to do. They are powerful and necessary prevention,” he says.