BY MARY BASSETT
As a New Yorker, I take daily pleasure in all that our city has to offer. Each of the five boroughs is filled with diverse, vibrant neighborhoods. I love being able to take the subway just a few stops and find an entirely different neighborhood to experience.
Unfortunately, in the most diverse city in the world, a short subway ride or drive can also reveal unnatural differences in health.
According to our data, Far Rockaway residents have a life expectancy of just 76 years, while Bayside residents can expect to live an extra eight years – almost a decade – longer. This is unacceptable.
I want our city to keep its diversity while ending gaps in life chances. Making sure that every neighborhood is a healthy neighborhood will make our city more hopeful and vibrant.
For generations, people living in historically segregated and deprived neighborhoods, often Blacks and Latinos, have shouldered the heaviest burden of disease in our city. Though the leading causes of death are the same across all racial and ethnic groups, Black and Latino New Yorkers are more likely by far to die before age 65.
Babies living in communities of color are also more likely to die within their first year of life. The neighborhoods of Jamaica and Hollis have the highest infant mortality rate in the city, nine times higher than the rate in the Upper East Side.
There’s no biological difference between races that would make us expect or accept such different health outcomes. These differences are not natural. In fact, it’s unconscionable that someone’s New York City experience so greatly depends on which neighborhood is called home.
As the City’s doctor, it’s my responsibility to consider the many facets of what makes for a healthy life – where we live, work, play and pray. It’s also my responsibility to recognize what creates an unhealthy environment. Decades of structural racism, including poor housing conditions and limited educational opportunities, have made some of our neighborhoods difficult places for people to thrive.
Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, we’re doing our best to change that. We’re implementing policies and programs to lift up every resident, not just those who have the means.
We’re making sure our little ones get a jumpstart in life through home visiting and early intervention programs and free, high-quality pre-kindergarten. Our new sodium warning label empowers people to make informed decisions about the food they consume and better watch their salt intake. We’re improving our fragmented mental health system, while giving people more help in navigating it, and so much more.
We’re doing this because we know that for people to live healthier, we have to give people healthier options. People need good housing, a more livable wage, good education, and access to services to take control of their health. All of these things help build a healthy neighborhood.
I look forward to living in a city where neither a New Yorker’s ZIP code nor skin color will have a bearing on their health or how long they will live.
Mary Bassett is the NYC Commissioner of DOHMH