Health Department Publishes Comprehensive Studies on the Health of New Yorkers

In collaboration with the NYU School of Medicine, the Health Department analyzed 2004 and 2013-14 data around obesity, diabetes, depression, mercury levels among adults, the correlation between sleep patterns and sexual orientation, and race disparities in cardiovascular risk factors

July 10, 2018 – The Health Department and the NYU School of Medicine researchers today published a series of studies in The Journal of Urban Health analyzing 2004 and 2013-14 data around six topics relevant to the health of New Yorkers: obesity, diabetes, depression, mercury levels among adults, the correlation between sleep patterns and sexual orientation, and gender and race disparities in cardiovascular risk factors. The data for these studies were collected through the NYC Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES), which provides valuable information about the physical and mental health of more than 1,500 New Yorkers. 

 “NYC HANES is an extensive health survey, with laboratory testing, and physical measurements including height, weight and blood pressure, and provides a unique way to look at the physical and emotional health of New Yorkers over time and understand the impact of programs and policies,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “For example, we were able to show that there was a nearly 50 percent reduction in mercury levels of New Yorkers over this 10 year period during which there was a large-scale educational campaign to reduce consumption of fish with known high mercury content. This is a great success for New Yorkers.”
The studies showed that the numbers of New Yorkers who were obese increased and diabetes rates continue to be high with persistent racial and ethnic disparities. More than 8 percent of adult New Yorkers were suffering from depression. In November 2015, the City launched ThriveNYC, an $850 million initiative with a goal to change the conversation surrounding mental illness, reduce stigma and provide greater access to mental health care. Studies also showed that more than 40 percent of adults had difficulty sleeping, there were gender and racial/ethnic disparities in cardiovascular disease risk factors, and blood mercury level declined.

  • Obesity: The study, Change in Obesity Prevalence Among New York City Adults, showed that over the ten-year study period, obesity rates increased from 27.5 percent to 32.4 percent; this increase was mostly seen among men. Blacks and Latinos had the highest rates of obesity in 2013-14 (37.1 and 36.9 percent, respectively), and Asians experienced the largest increase in obesity (from 20.1 percent to 29.2 percent). While the rise in obesity levels was less marked than observed nationally, there were some groups that had greater increases than others, including those who had no more than a high-school education, lacked health insurance, or were foreign-born.

The Health Department has supported faith- and community-based organizations to voluntarily adopt the NYC Food Standards, an evidence-based nutrition policy for meals and snacks served at schools, senior centers, homeless shelters and other City agency facilities and programs. Further, the Health Department has expanded Shop Healthy NYC, a program that targets neighborhoods with high rates of obesity and limited access to nutritious foods, to engage community residents, food retailers, food suppliers and distributors to increase access to healthy foods, including making low-calorie beverages more available. Additionally, the agency supports healthy eating through nutrition education programming at farmers’ markets and child care centers, as well as the Health Bucks Program, which provides $2 coupons redeemable for fresh fruits and vegetables at any New York City farmers’ market. The Health Department has also released a series of public education campaigns to raise awareness about the negative health effects of sugary-sweetened beverages and promote drinking water. Campaigns include: “Sounds Healthy” (2014-15), Skinny Kids” (2015), and “Drink NYC Tap Water” (2016) and "Sour Side of Sweet" (2017). 

  • Diabetes:  The study, Change in Diabetes Prevalence and Control Among New York City Adults, highlighted thatthediabetes burden in New York City remained high and racial and ethnic disparities persisted, with 2013-14 data demonstrating a two-fold disparity between whites and other groups.

Join the BEAT (Be active, Eat healthy, Act on cardiovascular health risks, Take prescribed medications) focuses on neighborhoods in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem and Queens that have high levels of obesity, pre-diabetes, hypertension and related mortality. The program promotes strategies such as free exercise classes and increasing the availability of healthy food options with a goal to reduce obesity and deaths from cardiovascular diseases. NYC Care Calls is a study testing the effectiveness of telephone-based self-management support to improve A1C control for patients with diabetes. Public Health Detailing works with primary care providers and their staff to promote preventive health interventions in practice settings. In March 2017, the public health detailing team launched a diabetes campaign, including a diabetes action kit with materials for providers to address diabetes prevention and care.  

  • Depression: The Burden of Depression in New York City Adults highlighted that 8.3 percent of New Yorkers had current symptoms of moderate-to-severe depression in 2013-14, representing more than 500,000 adults. Nearly 60 percent of New Yorkers with depression did not receive counseling or medication the previous year. New Yorkers with depression were significantly more likely to be female, Latino or unemployed. They were also more likely to have less than a high school education and live in high-poverty neighborhoods.

In November 2015, the City launched ThriveNYC, an $850 million initiative with a goal to change the conversation surrounding mental illness, reduce stigma and provide greater access to mental health care. In 2016, the City launched NYC Well, which offers free, confidential mental health support, information, referrals and crisis counseling at any hour of the day in over 200 languages. The toll-free help line can be reached by phone, text or online chat. As of April 30, NYC Well has handled more than 340,000 calls, texts, chats and online mobile crisis referrals — an average of 18,900 per month since its launch.

  • Mercury: Tracking Declines in Mercury Exposure in the New York City Adult Population showed that the blood and urine mercury concentrations of New York City adults have decreased 46 percent and 45 percent respectively between the years of 2004 and 2014. The 46 percent decline in average adult New Yorker blood mercury was significantly higher than the national decline of 17 percent. The Health Department created messaging to steer consumption to fish with lower mercury content, specifically targeted to pregnant or breastfeeding women and those who care for young children. The greatest risks of mercury exposure are to the developing nervous system. The agency also distributed over 200,000 “Eat Fish, Choose Wisely” brochures between 2007 and 2013. Skin lightning creams have also been identified as sources of mercury exposure, and the Department has taken actions to remove products from the marketplace and educate the public about dangers of their use.
  • Sleep and Sexual Orientation: Disparities in Sleep Problems by Sexual Orientation Among New York City Adults revealed that bisexual individuals have a higher risk of sleep problems. Poor sleep health has been associated with unfavorable health outcomes, including HIV, drug use, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Sixty-nine percent of bisexual adults had sleep problems compared to 40 percent of heterosexual adults, while 49 percent of homosexual adults had sleep problems compared to 40 percent of heterosexual adults. The Health Department works with providers who incorporate the sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression of patients into their care.  Through the NYC Health Map, residents can find LGBTQ-knowledgeable providers who can offer services in primary care, sexual health care, and gender affirming care as well as HIV testing, treatment and other services.
  • Cardiovascular Disease by Gender and Race: The study, Gender and Race Disparities in Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Among New York City Adults, showed that Black women were more likely to be overweight or obese, have hypertension, and have diabetes than non-Latino white men or women and non-Latino black men. The Health Department’s Center for Health Equity (CHE) works toward a fair and healthy New York where all residents — regardless of their zip code — have the opportunity to lead their healthiest lives. CHE strengthens the agency’s goal to eliminate health inequities, or unjust differences in health outcomes, for residents in neighborhoods impacted by racism and long-term disinvestment by organizations and institutions. The CHE Neighborhood Health Action Centers offer coordinated health and social services as well as community programs under one roof. They also provide hubs for people to become involved in efforts to improve the health of their neighborhoods.

About NYC Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES)
The New York City Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is a population-based examination survey of New York City adults, modeled on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. NYC HANES provides valuable information on the health of New Yorkers including the prevalence, awareness, treatment and control of chronic conditions, environmental exposures and mental health screening.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Danielle De Souza, (347) 396-4177
PressOffice@health.nyc.gov