Mayors and other city leaders play a pivotal role in the overall health and well-being of the cities and towns they serve. “Healthy communities lead to a thriving city,” stated Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh in her inaugural state of the city address this year. In the National League of Cities report, State of the Cities 2017, a content analysis of top-level issues in 120 mayoral speeches, nearly a quarter of mayors devoted significant portions of their speeches to addressing issues of health.

Health is More than Healthcare
A growing number of mayors understand that how long and how well residents in their cities live is influenced by many factors outside of traditional healthcare. These local leaders recognize that, when it comes to health, your ZIP code can be more important than your genetic code. The adoption of this broad definition of health was reflected in this year’s State of the City speeches. No mayor mentioned Medicaid or Medicare in their address, but many focused on healthy lifestyles and community environments.

Parks and recreation initiatives, for example, were mentioned by 28% of mayors this year. “The parks and greenways fill people’s lives in so many different ways. For some, it’s the quiet and solitude of simply being outside. For some, it’s being on the Greenway and discovering parts of Raleigh that they never knew existed. For many, it’s our children programs and youth opportunities,” said Raleigh, N.C., Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

Healthy Cities Rooted in Local Needs and Values
A mayor’s desire to foster healthy communities is a reflection of the needs of the community he or she serves. “Different cities have different values and priorities and it is the job of local elected officials to do the best they can in representing their community’s values and priorities,” said Burleson, Texas, Mayor Ken Shetter.

Mayors and other local officials are using innovative approaches to tackle the health challenges that matter most in their cities, often through collaboration and problem-solving with residents and local stakeholders.

  • In New Haven, Connecticut., asthma hospitalization is five times the state average. In response to residents’ concerns, city departments partnered to create Camp Easy Breezy,a summertime respite for the more than 3,000 New Haven kids diagnosed with asthma. “Next summer, enrollment for Camp Easy Breezy is expected to triple, providing patient support, continuity of care, and child-friendly asthma education while school is out,” said Mayor Toni Harp in February.

  • In Kingston, New York, Mayor Steven Noble spoke of the need to bring diverse stakeholders together to improve public health. “I am well aware of the negative impacts obesity and other chronic illnesses can have on our community. I am committed to bringing together community partners to further our wellness efforts and establish the Live Well Kingston Commission,” said Noble.

  • Binghamton, New York., is among a handful of cities that are increasing access to healthy food in food deserts. “The city has stepped up in new ways, spearheading the Fresh Mobile Market…to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables across the North Side,” said Mayor Richard David. This hyperlocal program was recently expanded with grant funding. “While the program started small, it has distributed more than 28,000 pounds of produce and served more than 3,100 customers since last summer.”

Subtopic percentages are representative of all 120 speeches in the sample. From the National League of Cities report, State of the Cities 2017.   

As evidenced by their own words, it is clear mayors can improve the state of their cities by investing in strategies to improve the health and well-being of all residents. They are a group committed to building communities where all residents can thrive and actively contribute to the vibrancy of the city.

To learn more about what mayor’s are saying about health and more, check out the National League of Cities report, State of the Cities 2017.