In 2004, researchers found elevated levels of the chemical cotinine in the blood samples they collected during the first ever New York City Health and Examination Survey, or NYC HANES. Cotinine is linked to tobacco smoke, and the data suggested that New Yorkers, on average, were breathing more secondhand smoke than other Americans. That finding helped persuade the City Council to pass legislation that has kept Central Park and all other city parks and beaches smoke-free since 2011. In fact, the results of the survey have led to a variety of changes in local laws, all aimed at making NYC a healthier environment to live in.
Now, after almost ten years, it's time to update that data. In the coming months, 3,000 randomly selected New Yorkers will be invited to participate in the 2013 NYC HANES. But if previous trends hold, Upper East Siders will be the least likely to say yes - in 2004, turnout for the survey in the Upper East Side was among the lowest in the city.
That's a shame, because NYC HANES is a unique opportunity to influence municipal health policy. It is modeled after a national survey that began in the 1960s, NHANES. Dr. Tom Frieden, who is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and served as New York City's Health Commissioner for seven years, calls NHANES the "gold standard" in health surveys. New York City is the only jurisdiction that conducts a comparable local survey.
Unlike most other health surveys, which simply ask questions, NYC HANES also includes a physical exam. This has the advantage of providing scientists with an objective measure of New Yorkers' health, but it requires a 2-3 hour time commitment, which can dissuade some residents from participating. In addition, Upper East Side residents have higher rates of insurance coverage than many other New Yorkers, so there may be less interest in the free lab tests provided by the survey.
The Health Department and the CUNY School of Public Health, who are jointly conducting the upcoming NYC HANES with primary support from the de Beaumont Foundation, hope to increase turnout by making survey participation as easy as possible. The most important change is that the survey may now be conducted in respondents' homes whenever convenient.
The mayor frequently boasts that New Yorkers live longer than anyone else in the country. It's true - life expectancy in our city is 80.6 years, more than two years longer than the national average. That's a statistic to be proud of - and in order to maintain the gains we've made and improve even further, public health initiatives like NYC HANES are essential. I urge New Yorkers who are selected for the survey to participate, so that all New Yorkers can enjoy the benefits it can provide.
Dan Garodnick is the Council Member representing District 4, which includes the Upper East Side, East Midtown, portions of the West 50's, and Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.