WTOP News: DC earns ‘silver medal’ for health, quality of life

By Rachel Nania

D.C. is once again on the medal stand for being a healthy city.

The newly released 2018 CityHealth report, which evaluates various policies that support and improve health and quality of life in 40 U.S. cities, awarded the nation’s capital a silver medal.

More obvious policies, including access to healthy foods and safe streets, factored into the ratings, but so did the District’s efforts in affordable housing and early childhood education.

“So many factors influence whether or not you have a good chance of being healthy and living a thriving life,” said Shelley Hearne, president of CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente.

D.C. earned its highest marks in policies surrounding alcohol sales control (which Hearne said helps curb domestic abuse and violent crime rates), age restrictions for tobacco use, and healthy food options available in public places. The city’s pedestrian- and bike-friendly roads were also recognized.

That said, the report highlights some areas where there is room for improvement, including policies supporting the city’s universal pre-K program, especially in charter schools.

“An issue like high-quality, universal pre-K is actually one of the biggest contributors to how well a child can do as an adult,” said Hearne, who added that quality pre-K programs have been shown to result in higher graduation rates.

According to data on the City Heath Dashboard, D.C.’s on-time graduation rates (73.2 percent) fall below the average of 500 of the nation’s cities (83.4 percent).

Hearne said with a high school diploma, “a child will end up being a stronger wage-earner, which is a huge factor in whether or not you’re going to be healthy down the road.”

Tightening policies around food safety and restaurant inspection ratings could push D.C. into “gold” status in the future. Cities such as New York and Los Angeles require restaurants to post the grades they receive from their inspections. However, D.C. does not.

“It’s not only a right-to-know, but it actually has been shown to reduce food-borne illnesses,” Hearne said about the public postings.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, restaurants are the most commonly reported places where foods that caused illnesses are prepared. And a 2003 study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics found that posting restaurant inspections in L.A. decreased the number of foodborne illness hospitalizations and increased restaurant inspection scores.

The CDC also reports that infected restaurant workers are often the cause of norovirus outbreaks. This segues into another policy area assessed in the CityHealth report: earned sick leave.

Hearne said the good news is, D.C. has an earned sick leave policy, but “it doesn’t quite meet the gold standard out there.”

“And it’s really important for a city’s health because, as you can imagine, maybe in restaurants the person serving or making your food doesn’t actually have sick leave. And that’s the last place that you want someone who’s not well coming in, who’s handling your food, not taking a day off. So it’s really about not just improving individual health, but this is such a key element for ensuring the community’s health,” Hearne added.

D.C. is one of nine cities to receive a silver medal in the 40 evaluated. Five cities received gold medals (including New York, Chicago and L.A.), 11 received bronze medals and 15 cities did not medal. Last year, D.C. earned a gold medal in the same report, but Hearne said more information was available this year on the city’s charter school standards for early education, which brought the rating down.

“D.C. is right on the cusp,” Hearne said.

“And it just needs to tighten up and step forward in a few areas in making sure that it provides the best opportunity for everyone in the city to have the healthiest life possible.”