New Yorkers have a life expectancy that is higher than average

The average New Yorker’s life expectancy is at record levels and higher than the national average, announced Mayor Bloomberg and Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley on December 11.

Babies born in New York City in 2010 have a record-high life expectancy of 80.9 years, which is 2.2 more years than the national average of 78.8. The city’s life expectancy rate has increased by three years since 2001, much more than the nationwide increase of just 1.8 years over the same time period.

The life expectancy of men is at 78.1 years and at 83.3 years for women.

In addition, the city’s infant mortality rate fell in 2011 to an all-time low of 4.7 deaths per 1,000 live births. This is a decrease of 23 percent since 2001 and nearly twice the national decrease of 12 percent over the same time period.

Bloomberg chalked up the success in part to his often-controversial efforts to improve the city’s health. Those include requiring restaurants to provide calorie counts on menus, passing laws aimed at reducing residents’ salt intake, banning smoking in restaurants, bars and parks, increasing taxes on cigarettes and most recently the ban on establishments and restaurants serving sodas over 16 ounces.

“Not only are New Yorkers living longer, but our improvements continue to outpace the gains in the rest of the nation,” he said. “Our willingness to invest in health care and bold interventions is paying off in improved health outcomes, decreased infant mortality and increased life expectancy.”

Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy at the Council of Senior Centers and Services, said that the extensive services available for seniors in the city, including Meals on Wheels, is helping people live longer.

“I think… that this city has [been] historically committed to developing community-based services so that [seniors] can age in one place,” she said. “We have a food stamp outreach program that brings a couple of thousand dollars a year in their pockets for food. SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption) [helps] pay for rent.”

Sackman said one of the most important things that senior centers provide is socialization.

“If you are not feeling well or doing well, you might be noticed instead of being just isolated somewhere or at home,” she explained. “The social services network does a huge piece in extending lives and improving quality of life. It’s a big reason that people do live longer.”

Bay Ridge is a case in point. Its high percentage of senior citizens, who have aged in place, have earned the community the designation, NORC, which stands for Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. The neighborhood not only offers services for the elderly – including advocacy groups, two AARP chapters and senior centers — but also has a wide range of restaurants and shops in a concentrated area, making it easier for seniors to meet their needs.

Ridgeite Jane Kelly, 91, said that she loves living in the neighborhood because there is so much for her to do.

“During the summer when I am away, I don’t feel the same as I do the rest of the year,” she said, adding that she belongs to a number of community-based organizations. “They interest me and they help the community.”

Kelly added that it’s important for seniors to have the opportunity to “help out. “It’s stimulating to live here,” she said. “That’s what keeps you interested and active.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the city’s lower infant mortality rate is due to increased awareness of preventive care and better health insurance coverage provided by both federal and local government, according to Dr. Yar Pye, who is Lutheran Family Health Centers’ medical director at the Family Physician Family Health Center. Pye has been part of Lutheran’s team for 18 years and specializes in family medicine, which includes delivering and taking care of babies.

“New York has some pretty great guidelines [for healthy living], preventive care and primary care,” Pye explained. “The next generation is flooded with diabetes [and are at a higher risk] for hypertension and heart attacks. The challenge is making [those percentages] come down.”

Pye added that New York is a “unique city.” Although many will benefit from Health Care Reform, which will kick in in 2014, “there is still a big health care disparity among whites” and minorities.

“But compared to other cities in other states, New York has a better doctor/patient ratio and better access,” Pye said. “We also provide emergency Medicaid for undocumented, pregnant people. That prevents complications during delivery.”

Electronic medical records are also helpful. Having data in comprehensive files aids population management, “especially with smaller practices. We are getting a great return in our investments,” Pye concluded.

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