New York City is launching a broad public health campaign to increase longevity to 83 years old by 2030 by tackling the biggest drivers of premature death such as chronic diseases, screenable cancers, overdoses, suicide, violence and COVID-19.
In a move that aspires to be a national model to improve health and increase life expectancy, the city’s new HealthyNYC campaign, launched this month, aims to reverse some of the declines seen during the Covid-19 pandemic and make gains across racial and ethnic groups that historically have shorter lifespans.
Life expectancy in New York City had risen to 82.6 years in 2019, exceeding the national average of 78.9 years. But life expectancy in the city dropped to 78 years in 2020 due to the coronavirus during the pandemic, while the U.S. life expectancy dropped to 76.8 years.
“‘HealthyNYC’ is a game changer because in the wake of COVID-19, and while facing parallel and growing health crises, we know that, as a city and a nation, people are getting sicker and dying sooner than they should,” said Ashwin Vasan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “Losing years of life and of good health is a unifying challenge, and getting them back is a top priority for New York City, as well as a north star for the future of public health.”
“The road we travel here in New York City will provide guideposts for our nation and its people, who should expect to live long and live well, for themselves and for generations to follow,” Vasan said.
The city did not respond to requests for comment about how much the HealthyNYC initiative would cost or how many premature deaths would be avoided by the effort.
Life expectancy in New York City has begun to improve since the depths of the pandemic, with 2.7 years gained back from 2020 to 2021. However, life expectancy remains behind the 2019 level. Also, the issue of lifespan has not been felt equally, as life expectancy fell to 76.1 years among Black New Yorkers in 2021, compared to 81.8 years among white New Yorkers.
The HealthyNYC initiative has specific goals and metrics it aims to achieve, such as reducing cardiovascular disease and diabetes by 5% by 2030, reducing screenable cancers by 20%, cutting overdose deaths by 25% and reducing suicide deaths by 10%.
“HealthyNYC is a bold plan to ensure New Yorkers live longer, healthier lives,” said Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. “I firmly believe this will become a national model that other cities, states, and our entire nation can follow to help America’s health get back on track.”
The campaign also aims to reduce homicide deaths by 30%, cut pregnancy-associated mortality among Black women by 10%, and reduce annual COVID-19 deaths by 60% by 2030.
“This is a high-minded, much-needed noble effort. I applaud them. Standing ovation,” said Ken Dychtwald, a psychologist and gerontologist and the founder and chief executive of Age Wave, a think tank and consultancy focused on aging and longevity. “But the issue is not just to prolong life. It’s one thing to live longer, it’s another thing to live healthier. If we could link our healthspan and our lifespan, that would be the real breakthrough.”
To achieve its HealthyNYC goals, the city will increase access to naloxone to combat drug overdoses, work to reduce access to illegal guns, and expand access to mental health care and social support services, including early intervention for communities of color and LGBTQ+ youth. Other efforts include increasing families’ access to health care and social support to reduce pregnancy-associated mortality among Black women and increasing access to healthy foods to reduce chronic and diet-related disease deaths.
About 42% of cancer cases and 45% of cancer deaths in the United States are linked to modifiable risk factors, meaning that nearly half of cancer diagnoses and deaths across the country are preventable, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in New York.
New York City Councilmember Lynn Schulman also introduced new legislation to require city agencies to provide regular updates to the city council on progress made toward the HealthyNYC effort and set new goals every five years.
“A lot of what is being proposed may cost some money, but may save more money in the long run — and have an immeasurable improvement in people’s quality of life,” Dychtwald said.