By Stacy Brown
The District has again earned a citation as one of America’s healthiest cities.
A 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, as did the District’s efforts in affordable housing and early childhood education, according to the report.
“So many factors influence whether or not you have a good chance of being healthy and living a thriving life,” Shelley Hearne, president of CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, told WTOP.
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 also received notice, WTOP reported.
That said, the report highlights some areas where there’s 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,” Hearne said, adding that quality pre-K programs have been shown to result in higher graduation rates.
According to data on the City Health Dashboard, the District’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, according to the WTOP report.
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 foodborne illnesses,” Hearne said about the public postings.
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], restaurants remain the most commonly reported places where foods that caused illnesses tend to be 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 illnesses, hospitalizations and increased restaurant inspection scores.
The CDC also reported that infected restaurant workers often serve as 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 right on the cusp,” Hearne said.