We really are the city that never sleeps — and that’s not the half of it!
New Yorkers are having trouble sleeping, eating more takeout food and spending at least three hours a day staring at screens, according to a series of health studies being released on Tuesday.
Researchers from the NYU School of Medicine and the city Health Department looked at issues including sleep, obesity, depression and diabetes using data from a citywide survey.
“In general, people who live in cities tend to fare worse than people who don’t live in cities,” said Lorna Thorpe, professor and director of the Division of Epidemiology at NYU Langone Health. “You see that in other studies because there are more people in poverty and a diverse population.
“But in some instances we are doing better than the national average,” added Thorpe, who is also vice chair of the Department of Population Health. “New York City has lower obesity levels. We’ve really seen a decline in secondhand smoke.”
The number of city dwellers deemed obese jumped from 27.5 percent in 2004 to 32.4 percent in 2013-14, according to the studies. But nationwide the increase was over 31 percent compared to roughly 15 percent in the city.
Black adults in New York City had the highest incidence of obesity at 37.1 percent, while Asian adults marked the largest increase, from 20.1 percent to 29.2 percent.
“In South Korea, meat is extremely expensive compared to here in the states,” said Sara Soonsik Kim, director of public health for the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York. “As a result, when immigrants arrive in the U.S., they tend to consume a lot of beef, pork, chicken, rather than vegetables. This increased meat consumption leads to being overweight, higher levels of cholesterol and health issues.”
The overall rate of diabetes in New Yorkers increased from 13 to 16 percent with the highest numbers among Asians and the lowest among whites, the reports said.
Black women were found to be at higher risk of being overweight or obese, having hypertension and having diabetes more than black men and white men or women.
City Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the Council’s Health Committee, said more needs to be done to address the stark racial disparities with obesity and diabetes rates in minority communities.
“We need to be on the ground in communities to tackle these challenges,” he said.
Levine said he wasn’t surprised to see 42 percent of New Yorkers surveyed reported sleep problems, which can leave them more vulnerable to infection and depression.
According to the studies, more than 63 percent of adults reported spending three or more hours looking at their screens, a 32 percent jump from 2004 when it was 48 percent.
“People are on their phones and on tablets in their bed and that makes it more difficult to fall asleep,” Levine said. “People are even being distracted in the middle of the night because their phones are continuing to buzz. That has real health consequences.”
The studies will be published in the Journal of Urban Health based on data from the 2013-14 NYC Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES). That survey included interviews and physical examinations of 1,500 New Yorkers representative of every adult, gender, and race throughout the five boroughs.
Thorpe, co-principal investigator of the HANES survey who led the study’s implementation said the new reports give an in-depth view of the health of New York City residents.
Researchers estimated 8.3 percent or about half a million New Yorkers have symptoms of depression with the highest numbers found among women and Latinos.
“Being in the city, I guess you work a lot,” said John Diaz, 22, who lives on the Lower East Side. “A lot of people don’t get to see their families for that long . . . I guess it does get depressing after a while.”
David Woodlock, president and CEO of the Institute for Community Living, said the findings are reflective of “a pretty deep sense of anxiety across the country.” He also noted that some researchers believe while social media suggests more connections, they are less personal.
But the reports are not all doom and gloom and there are reasons to be hopeful, experts said.
New Yorkers facing depression and mental illness have more resources under the city’s ThriveNYC initiative, said Jenifer Clapp, director of nutrition policy and programs at the city’s Health Department. Young New Yorkers also get nutritional help through the city’s educational programs.
“By getting kids into school earlier with universal Pre-K, we have increased their access to healthy food,” she said.
Prentiss Darden, 34, of Manhattan, said she doesn’t watch any television but sometimes skips a full night of sleep so she can get some time in the gym or get to work early. She said she was surprised to hear so many people don’t get enough exercise.
“Living in New York you really need to move a lot,” Darden said. “But at the same, I think people are pretty focused on convenience, and that often means having things delivered to you or just going out to buy something rather than cook.”