What if Mayor Bloomberg is right? The smoking ban, the bike lanes, the soda ban, the mass force-feeding of cruciferous veggies—all of it may already be making us healthier.
The Lancet has provided a shot in the arm to the mayor’s efforts to control every aspect of his constituents’ lives. New research published in British medical journal indicates that New York City’s life expectancy rate is rising faster than anywhere else in the United States. Between 1987 and 2009, Manhattan’s life expectancy rose by 10 years, the largest increase of any county, and New York’s other four boroughs were all in the top percentile.
Manhattan’s city dwellers can now expect to live until 82, an age three years higher than the national average and the same average as Japan, the nation with the world’s highest life expectancy rate.
The report’s lead researcher, Ali Mokdad, said he attributes the change largely to the New York City health department’s crackdown on unhealthy behaviors.
“The health department mandated calorie labels for food sold in chain restaurants and banned trans fats,” researchers stated in the report. “It prohibited smoking in public spaces and ratcheted up taxes on cigarettes. It rolled out hundreds of miles of new bicycle lanes and papered subways with information campaigns about the risks of obesity and the benefits of preventive health services.”
As most New Yorkers are aware, this report has been published at a time when the city is considering further health regulation with the partial ban of large servings of sugary drinks.
“For way too long, public health departments have defined their responsibilities as essentially infectious disease control rather than improvement of health of the population,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told the Lancet. The scourges of New York City in the 21st century are tobacco and poor nutrition and inactivity, he added, so the health department has made them their new focus. “It’s not a given that we’re going to continue to have high rates of smoking and high rates of [non-communicable] diseases; those are as preventable as infectious diseases were 150 years ago.”