NYC health claims don't add up

Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks about heat related issues affecting New Yorkers at the Wakefield Senior Center on Aug. 15, 2005 in New York City.

Article Highlights

  • Much of the health progress in NYC has nothing to do with the prevailing nostrums of public-health policy

    Tweet This

  • Cardiovascular-disease mortality in NYC reportedly dropped by 28% from 2002 and 2009 — as opposed to 26% for America

    Tweet This

  • It isn’t clear that the official narrative of New York’s health progress actually conforms with the health story for New York

    Tweet This

"If you want to live longer and healthier than the average American, then come to New York City,” exulted Mayor Bloomberg over the holidays. In the latest official figures, life expectancy at birth for New Yorkers is higher than ever — over 80 years as of 2009, nearly three years above America as a whole. Plus, death rates from nearly every major cause dropped markedly on Mayor Mike’s watch.

The mayor and his staff insist these numbers prove that their health policies are paying off — including their aggressive anti-smoking and anti-obesity campaigns.

“By investing in health care and continuing to encourage more New Yorkers to take charge of their own health,” Bloomberg declared, “we’ve experienced dramatic improvements in life expectancy.

"Unfortunately for the health ideologists, but happily for the people of New York, much of the health progress in the city over the last decade has nothing to do with the prevailing nostrums of public-health policy." --Nicholas EberstadtThe health news for the city is good — very good, in fact. And it must be especially gratifying to Bloomberg, given his longstanding personal commitment to public health. (He has for example donated over $100 million of his fortune to the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, which is now named after him.

But it isn’t clear that the official narrative of New York’s health progress, which conforms closely to the “harm reduction” and “disparity reduction” ideology espoused today in leading public-health faculties, actually conforms with the health story for New York over the last decade.

From 2000 to 2009, reports the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, life expectancy at birth in New York rose by almost three years. But by that same measure, New York’s progress was much better — over five years — during the 1990s under previous mayors and before the Bloomberg “health offensive."

Bloomberg’s anti-smoking crusade, its acolytes claim, brings big health dividends, mainly through reduced heart and cancer mortality. One of his health officials insists: “Heart disease and high blood pressure improve within hours or days after someone stops smoking."

Hmm. Cardiovascular-disease mortality in New York City reportedly dropped by 28 percent from 2002 and 2009 — as opposed to 26 percent for America as a whole during the seven-year period from 2000 to 2007 (the latest numbers for the whole country). Is this a meaningful difference?

As for cancer, rates are down a bit in New York City, but the same is true for national rates. So where’s this vaunted health dividend from Mayor Mike’s policies?

Admittedly, for smoking cessation and other desiderata of health elites, the benefits may be “long run” — longer than can be tabulated in two or three mayoral terms. Fair enough — but if so, why all the hoopla about the seemingly exciting results for the last few years?

Unfortunately for the health ideologists, but happily for the people of New York, much of the health progress in the city over the last decade has nothing to do with the prevailing nostrums of public-health policy.

Despite the “victim” and “disparity” mentality of current health policy, for example, the inconvenient fact remains that death rates are much lower in New York City for the Latino population than for the city as a whole — even though Hispanic New Yorkers have much lower education levels and higher measured poverty rates! Indeed, according to the city’s latest (2007) data, the standardized death rate for Hispanics is 32 percent lower than for African-Americans — and 18 percent lower than for “whites.”

By the same token, infant-mortality rates are lower in New York City than for the country overall, despite the fact that the city has markedly higher poverty and illegitimacy rates than America as a whole. For whatever reason, this signal achievement is something that Bloomberg and his health posse seem to have overlooked. Can anyone say why?

Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt chair in political economy at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Nicholas
Eberstadt
  • Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist and a demographer by training, is also a senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research, a member of the visiting committee at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a member of the Global Leadership Council at the World Economic Forum. He researches and writes extensively on economic development, foreign aid, global health, demographics, and poverty. He is the author of numerous monographs and articles on North and South Korea, East Asia, and countries of the former Soviet Union. His books range from The End of North Korea (AEI Press, 1999) to The Poverty of the Poverty Rate (AEI Press, 2008).

     

  • Phone: 202.862.5825
    Email: eberstadt@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Alex Coblin
    Phone: 202.419.5215
    Email: alex.coblin@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011
image Net neutrality rundown: What the NPRM means for you
image The Schuette decision
image Snatching failure from victory in Afghanistan
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.