Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the city’s health commissioner, said New Yorkers...

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the city’s health commissioner, said New Yorkers continue to lose life years and quality of life due to diabetes, heart disease, overdose, suicide, and a range of other issues that can be prevented. Credit: ED QUINN

People born in New York City had a life expectancy of 80.7 years in 2021, higher than in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but still lower than pre-pandemic levels, according to the city’s latest yearly Vital Statistics Report.

COVID-19's 2020 death toll — 21,241 across the five boroughs — had dragged life expectancy down to 78, the lowest since 2009, the report showed. But though the pandemic recovery lifted life expectancy overall, it was complicated and slowed by crosscutting factors like poverty, race and an increase in drug-related deaths, according to the report. 

“While we are pleased that New Yorkers’ life spans have begun to recover from the unprecedented decline in 2020, we still have much work to do to ensure that all New Yorkers live healthier, longer lives,” said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the city’s health commissioner, in a news release. “New Yorkers continue to lose life years and quality of life due to diabetes, heart disease, overdose, suicide, and a range of other issues that can be prevented."

By targeting those and other drivers of premature death in the Vital Statistics Report, city officials say they can extend New Yorkers' life expectancy. They aim to extend the average to 83 years by 2030, they announced last fall. 

Suffolk and Nassau County health departments did not provide comparable data. But the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute estimated the 2023 Nassau life span at 81.9 years and the Suffolk life span at 80.1 years.

Published state Department of Health data for both counties shows COVID-19's impact on Long Islanders. For 2020, the last year with published state data, COVID-19 was the second-leading cause of death in both counties, trailing only heart disease, responsible for 143.2 deaths per 100,000 population in Nassau and 140.3 in Suffolk.  

For the city in 2021, cancer and heart disease were the top causes of death and of premature death, as has been the case for years. But fatal overdoses also grew more prevalent, becoming the fourth-leading cause of death, behind COVID-19. The rate of drug-related deaths in the city continued a yearslong rise, reaching 31.5 per 100,000 population — far exceeding other accidental causes like falls and motor vehicle accidents.

The pandemic “exacerbated existing inequities,” city health officials wrote. In 2021, non-Hispanic or Latino Black New Yorkers had the lowest life expectancy at 76.1 years and non-Hispanic or Latino white New Yorkers had the highest at 81.8 years. That is the second-widest gap city health officials have recorded since they began calculating life expectancy by race and ethnicity in 2000.

“Inequities continue to persist in the data as legacies of contemporary and historical racism drive disparities in life spans,” the city Health Department said in a news release accompanying the report.

Poverty, which correlates with poor health, was also a powerful predictor of death. In very high-poverty neighborhoods, the rate of early death — defined in the study as before age 65 — was 2.6 times that of low-poverty neighborhoods in 2021. The rate of drug-related deaths in areas with very high poverty was 4.1 times the rate in areas with low poverty.

The County Health estimates, which use a rolling multi-year average, did not show the drop in life span for Long Island that the city experienced in 2020, but did show an increase in 2021. Overall, said Sean Clouston, a Stony Brook University epidemiologist, a significant drop in life expectancy is extremely rare, likely last occurring in this region during World War II or the Great Depression.

“Long Island is less susceptible in some ways, and more susceptible in others” to the pandemic, he wrote in an email. “We live less dense, for example, and spend more time outside or alone when commuting or socializing. These things matter, still, and will continue to help with COVID long-term. Yet, many Long Islanders also work in the city, so their exposures will be very similar to some others who work and live in the city.”

Long Island’s relatively low COVID-19 vaccination rates could pose a long-term “greater risk of disease,” he wrote.

People born in New York City had a life expectancy of 80.7 years in 2021, higher than in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but still lower than pre-pandemic levels, according to the city’s latest yearly Vital Statistics Report.

COVID-19's 2020 death toll — 21,241 across the five boroughs — had dragged life expectancy down to 78, the lowest since 2009, the report showed. But though the pandemic recovery lifted life expectancy overall, it was complicated and slowed by crosscutting factors like poverty, race and an increase in drug-related deaths, according to the report. 

“While we are pleased that New Yorkers’ life spans have begun to recover from the unprecedented decline in 2020, we still have much work to do to ensure that all New Yorkers live healthier, longer lives,” said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the city’s health commissioner, in a news release. “New Yorkers continue to lose life years and quality of life due to diabetes, heart disease, overdose, suicide, and a range of other issues that can be prevented."

By targeting those and other drivers of premature death in the Vital Statistics Report, city officials say they can extend New Yorkers' life expectancy. They aim to extend the average to 83 years by 2030, they announced last fall. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The life expectancy for people born in New York City rose to 80.7 years in 2021, but was still lower than pre-pandemic levels.
  • COVID-19's 2020 death toll — 21,241 across the five boroughs — had dragged life expectancy down to 78, the lowest since 2009.
  • The top causes of death and premature death were cancer and heart disease, but fatal overdoses became the fourth-leading cause, behind COVID-19.

Suffolk and Nassau County health departments did not provide comparable data. But the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute estimated the 2023 Nassau life span at 81.9 years and the Suffolk life span at 80.1 years.

Published state Department of Health data for both counties shows COVID-19's impact on Long Islanders. For 2020, the last year with published state data, COVID-19 was the second-leading cause of death in both counties, trailing only heart disease, responsible for 143.2 deaths per 100,000 population in Nassau and 140.3 in Suffolk.  

For the city in 2021, cancer and heart disease were the top causes of death and of premature death, as has been the case for years. But fatal overdoses also grew more prevalent, becoming the fourth-leading cause of death, behind COVID-19. The rate of drug-related deaths in the city continued a yearslong rise, reaching 31.5 per 100,000 population — far exceeding other accidental causes like falls and motor vehicle accidents.

The pandemic “exacerbated existing inequities,” city health officials wrote. In 2021, non-Hispanic or Latino Black New Yorkers had the lowest life expectancy at 76.1 years and non-Hispanic or Latino white New Yorkers had the highest at 81.8 years. That is the second-widest gap city health officials have recorded since they began calculating life expectancy by race and ethnicity in 2000.

“Inequities continue to persist in the data as legacies of contemporary and historical racism drive disparities in life spans,” the city Health Department said in a news release accompanying the report.

Poverty, which correlates with poor health, was also a powerful predictor of death. In very high-poverty neighborhoods, the rate of early death — defined in the study as before age 65 — was 2.6 times that of low-poverty neighborhoods in 2021. The rate of drug-related deaths in areas with very high poverty was 4.1 times the rate in areas with low poverty.

The County Health estimates, which use a rolling multi-year average, did not show the drop in life span for Long Island that the city experienced in 2020, but did show an increase in 2021. Overall, said Sean Clouston, a Stony Brook University epidemiologist, a significant drop in life expectancy is extremely rare, likely last occurring in this region during World War II or the Great Depression.

“Long Island is less susceptible in some ways, and more susceptible in others” to the pandemic, he wrote in an email. “We live less dense, for example, and spend more time outside or alone when commuting or socializing. These things matter, still, and will continue to help with COVID long-term. Yet, many Long Islanders also work in the city, so their exposures will be very similar to some others who work and live in the city.”

Long Island’s relatively low COVID-19 vaccination rates could pose a long-term “greater risk of disease,” he wrote.

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