By Ryan Benk
CityHealth, an initiative founded by the de Beaumont Foundation and health insurer Kaiser Permanente, rates Jacksonville near the bottom for policies that encourage good health and a positive quality of life.
The initiative uses a medal system to rate the 40 most populated cities based on nine public policies CityHealth believes will make residents healthier.
“There are about 300 different policies that cities, states, federals have put in place that have an impact on health,” CityHealth President Shelley Hearne said. “We took a look at the entire scope of policies, laws [and] opportunities for cities out there and we put them through a series of filters,” she said.
Hearn said her organization filtered out policies that cities didn’t have much control over and further narrowed its list by picking out only those policies shown to be the most effective. Cities were awarded gold, silver, bronze or no medal in each area and an average medal score was rendered overall.
CityHealth’s nine policy areas of interest are affordable housing, alcohol sales control, complete streets, earned sick leave, food safety, healthy food procurement, universal pre-kindergarten, smoke-free indoor air and a tobacco age limit of 21. Jacksonville’s tobacco age limit is 18.
Hearne said CityHealth found Jacksonville’s affordable housing policies deficient, alcohol controls lax, earned sick leave policies inadequate, restaurant grading weak, access to healthy food insufficient, and its lack of a 21 year old age limit for tobacco an impediment to reducing smoking rates.
Still, it wasn’t exclusively bad news for Jacksonville residents. Hearne said a growing population gives the River City every opportunity to better its score in the near future.
“The good news out there is that there are many peer cities that last year did not have medals and that have moved up the ranks because of the leadership and action that their cities have taken. Jacksonville has that same opportunity… as Jacksonville is going through this incredible boom — there are more people moving in, it is a go-to destination — this is the perfect time take that look,” she said.
According to new census data, reported by our news partner the Florida Times-Union, Duval County added more people last year than did 29 state and the pace of growth continues to quicken.
Although an overall medal was not awarded to Jacksonville this year, the city did earn a few in specific categories. Jacksonville’s most prestigious commendation came in the form of a surprising silver medal for so-called complete streets policies relating to road construction and pedestrian friendliness.
That’s despite the city consistently rating near the top for most dangerous cities for cyclists and walkers, as it did last year reported news partner News4Jax. Hearne said that medal can illustrate the limitations of policy on paper. She said Jacksonville received the recognition for complete streets because of how it’s constructing its newer roads, but to have the most impact, cities have to do everything they can to fully implement and enforce the policies they have.
“This is the challenge sometimes with policies. Complete streets requires that every time a street or route is being updated, modernized or built that it has to be done taking into account pedestrians, bikers — all modes of transportation,” she said. “These laws take time to actually get implemented.”
Jacksonville also received a bronze medal for pre-kindergarten quality and smoke-free indoor air policies. Hearne said she’s forwarded the CityHealth findings to Jacksonville city officials for consideration.