New York Vs. Boston: Manhattan Wins On Life Expectancy

Comparing Boston, NYC, Mass. and national life expectancy

(Data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington. Chart by Jesse Costa for WBUR.)

The medical journal The Lancet recently published a fascinating piece on the dramatically rising life expectancy in New York City, giving major credit to Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his public health initiatives.

New York Health Commissioner Thomas Farley told The Lancet: ““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.”

Well, naturally that raised my Boston hackles a bit. We, too, have a longstanding mayor who has made major efforts on the public health front, including the current “Boston Moves For Health” campaign, which aims to get Bostonians to lose 1 million pounds and walk 10 million miles. How, I wondered, do we compare to New York?

We’re not looking so great, according to the data kindly provided by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Their valuable data also served as the basis for The Lancet piece. As I read the graph above, we started out ahead and lost our lead. Looks just like far too many of our play-off seasons.

Now, needless to say, the influence of place on health is an exceedingly complex issue, and Lancet author Ted Alcorn notes that all kinds of factors are at play, from improving treatments for HIV to migrating populations. (New York County is Manhattan; Suffolk County roughly overlaps with Boston. It’s speculation, but I imagine people of more modest means have been priced out of Manhattan’s truly astronomical real estate more than out of Boston’s.)

But readers, I’d like to throw this question out to you: What does this graph say to you? How do you see history converging with health? And does this mean Boston Mayor Thomas Menino should emulate Mayor Bloomberg and ban Big-Gulp-sized drinks? Please stay tuned; I plan to gather opinions this week and wrap up on Friday.

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  • CarolT

    How do I see history converging with health? It’s the National Socialist Third Reich all over again. Bloomberg, who fancy him to be “the nation’s first and maybe the world’s first public health mayor,” is a veritable clone of the world’s first public health fuhrer, complete with the anti-smoking. And Hitler’s favorite quack, Otto Heinrich Warburg, was so obsessed with environmental carcinogens that he would not eat store-bought bread and had his own organic garden to produce fruits and vegetables. The first study based on lifestyle questionnaires to blame smoking for causing cancer was published in Germany in 1943. It was worthless, because infections including Helicobacter pylori and human papillomavirus are now known to cause many of those cancers. But the American Cancer Society and the Harvard School of Public Health fanatically embraced the Nazis’ pseudo-science, because it cynically exploits the fact that richer people are less likely to have been exposed to the infections that are the real causes of cancer, heart disease and other illnesses they blame on lifestyle. This provides them with the pretext to wage a war of cultural genocide against the people. And the primary difference between them is that the Nazis could hide behind the excuse of ignorance, while today’s health fascists cannot.

  • CarolT

    By the way, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women, and smokers and non-smokers. And there wasn’t any such as incredible decline in death rates from heart disease in New York City between 1990 and 2000. This is based on CDC mortality data. It proves that this garbage is nothing but a nazoid campaign of Big Lies.

  • CarolT

    The bottom line is that you’re deliberately presenting deceitful speculation as fact, in order to promote the political agenda of health fascism. Track this back to The Lancet (, and note that there is not a single scientific reference which describes how these data were obtained. It merely says that the source is the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, whereas life expectancy estimates directly from the National Center for Health Statistics typically say so. And what has the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation done recently?

    Here’s the important one:Danaei G, Rimm EB, Oza S, Kulkarni C, Murray CJL, Ezzati M. The Promise of prevention: the effects of four preventable risk factors on
    national life expectancy and life expectancy disparities by race and county in the United States. PLoS Medicine. 2010 Mar 23; 7

    They used “systematic reviews and meta-analyses of epidemiologic studies to obtain risk factor effect sizes for disease-specific mortality” (body mass index, fasting plasma glucose, systolic blood pressure and smoking), and applied these to population demographics. They claim that “Individually, smoking and high blood pressure had the largest effect on life expectancy disparities.”

    It’s fraudulent because those “risk factor effect sizes” are based on deliberately fraudulent studies that ignored the role of infection in the diseases they blame on lifestyle. They cynically exploit the fact that the privileged classes are less likely to have been exposed to the infections that are the real causes of cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. Then they falsely pretend that adopting the pet lifestyles of the privileged prevents illness. It’s really nothing but a war of cultural genocide waged by the 1% against the rest of us – with the media serving as their unquestioning puppets.

  • mem_somerville

    I was under the impression that one of the major issues was that the deaths from AIDS in the 90s were being reduced by increasingly effective treatments, and that was one of the dramatic changes over that period, especially for younger males.

    But it also seems to me that NYC might self-select folks who are healthier and more competitive to start with, with better financial resources. And are possibly at lower risk for fatal car accidents because nothing moves… I’d be interested to see it broken down by cause of death, especially at the older end.

  • Robert D Sullivan

    Isn’t Bloomberg the mayor of all five boroughs of New York City? How can you evaluate his public health initiatives only in the wealthiest borough?

    • Carey Goldberg

      Very good point. We wanted to match just one county against another because the data is divided up by county. But if you click on the Lancet link and look at its map of all the NYC counties, they all have pretty similar trajectories (except, oddly, Staten Island. Now what’s that about??)

  • Gues

    It’s interesting how in the early 90s, NYC
    females beat out Boston females and then the same thing happened for males
    around the mid 90s.  Knowing of any
    changes that went on during the 90s would be helpful.  Or regarding tobacco use in particular, was there a large drop in
    smoking 20 years earlier?

    The statement about demographics and Manhattan pricing out poorer people, who are know to have poor health outcomes, seems to be a critical.


  • Guest

    Cigarette prices in NYC are incredibly high.  I bet that reduces smoking and has something to do with it!

  • guest

    Restrictions on unhealthy foods would no doubt have an effect, but I am always struck by how much I walk when in Manhattan. I do wonder if New Yorkers just walk a whole lot more from place to place compared to other cities.