Community Health

Louisville has passed several laws and policies in the past year aimed at helping residents to be healthier, but a new report says the city still has a long way to go.

Nonprofit CItyHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente,  looked at the nation’s 40 largest cities to evaluate whether they have policies in place that better residents’ health and quality of life.

Louisville received one of its lowest rankings for its affordable housing policies. Experts with CityHealth tout inclusionary zoning as the best affordable housing policy. Inclusionary zoning policies — implemented in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York — either encourage or sometimes mandate that new developments sets aside a certain percentage of housing units for low or moderate income levels. Louisville does not have an inclusionary zoning policy.

Research shows that quality housing options limit exposure to environmental toxins, such as lead paint that’s often found in older homes. And with more affordable housing options, residents may have more money to spend on food and health care.

Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, said going forward, an affordable housing zoning law is on the city’s radar.

“Housing is connected to every health outcome,” Moyer said.

Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, said the lack of inclusionary zoning is bad for the population’s health. When families have few affordable housing options, or only have options in one area of town, often the choices are between substandard housing that puts people at risk of developing asthma, developing lead poisoning, and other accidental injuries.

“The way we zone and our lack of inclusionary zoning herds people who are lower income into very small geographic areas,” Hinko said.

Louisville also ranked low on the CityHealth assessment for not having laws to regulate the number of liquor stores allowed in a given neighborhood, and for not raising the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. A report from the Institute of Medicine says raising the age to purchase tobacco to age 21 would prevent thousands of deaths.

Moyer said there’s local support for both issues but state law prohibits the city from enacting such measures.

Shelley Hearne, the executive director of CityHealth, said this is common in other states as well.

“Unfortunately, there are a few states that block cities from putting in place policies that might make their city the healthiest place possible,” Hearne said. “If you’ve got a cluster of alcohol sales in one area, you’re going to be very much more likely to have higher rates of violent crime and motor vehicle accidents.”

Louisville improved its ranking in a few areas of the CityHealth assessment. Seventy-five percent of the food and drink in vending machines on city property includes healthy options, which earned Louisville a silver medal on the assessment. Louisville earned gold for banning hookah and vaping/e-cigarette use indoors last year, and for its restaurant grading program that requires any food vendor to post their grade where customers can see it.

Moyer said some of the policies where the city fell short will be priorities in coming years.

“As we continue to look at policy as an important way to improve the health of a city, these are good policies to look at moving forward,” Moyer said.

You can see how Louisville stacks up against other cities here.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.