Public Health Lessons from the Big Apple: Recommended Reading

Jun 6, 2012, 7:12 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth


A recent article in the medical journal The Lancet gives due credit to New York City as a public health leader. And not just because the city now boasts the highest life expectancy rates in the United States, but also because of some of the proven prevention and treatment initiatives that resulted in those increases.

"'From a nadir in 1990, when life expectancy in the city trailed the US average by 3 years, it had lengthened by 8 years to 80·6 years, surpassing the country."

The article notes that life expectancy has increased in the city because significant reductions in violent crime and more effective treatment of people with HIV/AIDs, but also because of drops in heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke. According to the authors, prevention initiatives have included a citywide smoking ban in parks and other public places, television ads by the health department about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and the benefits of breast feeding, and efforts to make healthy choices the easy choices such as mandated calorie labels for food sold in chain restaurants, banning transfats and the development of "hundreds of miles of new bicycle lanes."

While many cities might find it hard to afford the most ambitious projects New York City has introduced, such as a public transportation ad campaign that has improved minority colonoscopy rates, the Lancet authors provide an example of a new national initiative that started in the Bronx, the poorest county in the United States. Eight years ago, one school in the Bronx replaced whole milk with low-fat and fat-free versions, and the next fall, all of the schools in the Bronx had made the same change. In 2006, the city of New York followed that model practice, and this past January the U.S. Department of Education issued a rule that all schools in the nation follow the milk replacement example of that trend-setting county in New York.

Other New York City innovations that NewPublicHealth has reported on previously include the city’s Taxi of Tomorrow and a web portal devoted to driving out bed bugs.

>>Read the article in The Lancet.

>>Read a NewPublicHealth interview with New York City’s health commissioner Tom Farley, MD, MPH, on creating a prevention agenda.

>>Weigh In: What ideas from other communities have you implemented to improve community health?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.