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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