INDIANAPOLIS STAR: About that study that showed how unfit we are ... Here are a few reasons why.

By Shari Rudavsky 

Another study, another dismal performance for our city.

This one looks at how good a job a city’s policies do at promoting health for its residents.

Remember that study released earlier this month that placed Indianapolis dead last among the nation’s fittest cities?

According to a study released Tuesday from CityHealth, the blame may lie in large part with our city’s policies rather than the people who live here.

The new study rated the nation’s 40 largest cities on nine policy areas that contribute to resident health. It then looked at how well cities performed on each of those measures, such as affordable housing, sick leave and food safety. Cities could receive a medal in individual areas as well as an overall gold, silver or bronze.

So, how did Indy do?

Well, the good news is that we did earn two gold medals. One was for complete streets, a recognition of policies that take into account the needs of walkers, cyclists, drivers, and those on public transit. The other came for our strong indoor smoking ban, an improvement over last year's silver medal in this category.

But Indianapolis also fell among 15 cities whose overall picture was too bleak to earn even a bronze. Five cities — San Jose, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York — brought home golds, and the 20 others received either a silver or a bronze overall.

CityHealth is a collaboration between the de Beaumont Foundation, which focuses on strengthening the nation's public health system, and Kaiser Permanente.

Our lack of zoning laws for places that sell alcohol dinged us as did our lack of laws that require employers to give employees time off for sick leave. Lax alcohol laws can affect crime rates, the study’s authors say. Stronger sick leave policies can reduce the spread of contagious illnesses.

Nor does Indianapolis require restaurants to post food safety inspection grades, a move that can reduce the load of foodborne illnesses and save health care dollars. On the food front, the city also lacks policies that ensure food sold in city buildings meets basic nutritional standards, the study said.

Only seven cities, including Indianapolis, did not have high quality universal pre-K, which helps lower teen pregnancy and improve overall health, the study found. Our lack of laws around affordable housing — failing to set aside a portion of all housing for moderate- and low-income residents — also detracted from our overall performance.

The state’s General Assembly helped dash one more area where Indianapolis could have stood to medal, raising the smoking age from 18 to 21. Earlier this year the House Public Policy Committee passed just such a message, but in a surprise move House Speaker Brian Bosma killed the proposal, citing concerns that changing the legal age for tobacco would have a financial impact on the state.