Call it what you want, but New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may be onto something with his so-called soda ban.
The life expectancy for New York City residents is rising faster than anywhere else in the U.S., according to a new study from the medical journal the Lancet, which credited the city's health-conscious mayor for instituting public health policies that have helped add 10 years to Manhattanites' life expectancy between 1987 and 2009. Now, the average New Yorker is expected to live 80.6 years.
Manhattan isn't the only borough of New York City to see improvements. Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx all saw considerable increases in life expectancy during that period, with only the Bronx trailing the national life expectancy of 78.4 in 2009, according to statistics from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
That's a huge gain for New York City, where life expectancy trailed the national average by three years as recently as 1990. Granted, the reason for some of the city's gains may not be replicable elsewhere, according to the Lancet, which reports that a sharp reduction in homicides, combined with improved treatment for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, was a factor in New York City's rebound.
However, more than 60 percent of New Yorkers' increased life expectancy has been attributed to reductions in heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke. The study's authors write those gains are the result of aggressive efforts on the part of the city's health department, aided by Bloomberg's high-profile political support.
We have really the nation's first and maybe the world's first public health mayor, who has made clear that he is willing to take controversial positions if they're going to improve the health of his citizens, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told the Lancet.
Beginning under Farley's predecessor, Thomas Friedan, the city introduced a series of measures intended to improve public health, including mandating calorie labels for meals sold in chain restaurants, prohibiting smoking in public and placing higher taxes on cigarettes. To get people moving -- Friedan called inactivity one of the scourges of modern-day New York City -- hundreds of miles of bike lanes have been added to city streets.
Still, there's a major difference in life expectancy between Manhattanites, who are wealthier on average that the residents of other boroughs, and low-income New Yorkers, as demonstrated by the Bronx. In that borough, where 30 percent of the population lives below the federal poverty line, residents live an average of four years less than individuals living in affluent neighborhoods, likely the result of limited access to public spaces for exercise, healthy food options and quality health care.