You took many things into consideration when you decided to move here: good schools, proximity to New York City, great housing stock. But did you think about how moving here would affect your overall health? We spoke with Sherlita Amler, MD, the Westchester County Commissioner of Health, to hash out how the county stacks up when it comes to the health of its residents.
Westchester Is a Healthy Place To Live Because…
We Don’t Smoke
Need a light? Don’t ask us. According to a national Behavioral Risk Factor Survey conducted by telephone in 2008, 12 percent of Westchester residents self-identified as smokers. “That’s significantly lower than the state average, which is eighteen percent,” Dr. Amler says. The county offers lots of cessation and prevention programs and gives citations to stores that sell cigarettes to minors (though 98 percent don’t—kudos to county businesses). But our favorite innovation is that Westchester was the first county in New York State to ban smoking in restaurants—the City, and parts of the rest of the country, followed suit—so now none of our farm-to-table dinners have that tobacco aftertaste.
We Have Access to the Best Healthcare
“We have a Level 1 Trauma Center—we’re the only county in the Hudson Valley that has that,” Dr. Amler says. And nine out of every 10 Westchester residents have some sort of health insurance. If no other options are available, the county helps those who need them get onto plans like Medicare, Medicaid, and Family Health Plus. “That provides access to preventive services,” she says. “We’d rather prevent problems than treat problems.”
We Eat Right
According to the county’s Community Health Assessment 2010-2013, about 30 percent of Westchester residents aged 18 and older reported consumption of five servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day. And, with all of the local farms growing gorgeous crops right here, why wouldn’t you?
Our Children Are Fit
Our childhood obesity rates are relatively low—26 percent of children in Westchester are overweight or obese. “Eating right isn’t the whole message—they have to move,” Dr. Amler says. “We have places that make that possible—eighteen thousand acres of parkland where they can run, ride, and swim.”
Westchester Is an Unhealthy Place to Live Because…
We Drive Everywhere
Or, even if we’re not constantly planted behind the wheels of our cars, we sit at our desks too much. We need to get the blood flowing a little more. “The number-one way we need to improve as a county is to reduce heart disease,” Dr. Amler says. “It accounts for thirty-nine percent of the deaths in the county.”
Our Air Is Bad
Real bad. According to bestplaces.net, on a scale of 1 to 100, where 100 marks the best air quality, Westchester ranks in the mid-30s. (The United States average is 82.8.) After chronic disease (like heart disease) and cancer, respiratory illnesses come in third in our leading causes of death. There are about 48,000 people in the county living with asthma, and a quarter of them are children. While you may not be able to affect the overall air quality of the county, “good air quality should start at home—we’re back to not smoking, since smoking pollutes your own indoor air quality,” Dr. Amler says. And choosing to walk over driving helps out your heart and the county’s air—just saying.
We Shirk Prenatal Care
Nine percent of the births in the county resulted in babies who weighed less than five and a half pounds. One-fourth of those were from moms that had no prenatal care whatsoever—and Dr. Amler reports that the county is working to identify the barriers to prenatal care and remove them (through efforts like the Go Before You Show program). But even women with prenatal care could slow down a bit. “We’re working to reduce elective C-sections,” Dr. Amler says. “Studies show that premature babies—even if they’re mildly premature—can have developmental delays.”
Our Adults Are Not Fit
The Behavioral Risk Factor Survey—the one that noted that our children are pretty fit—also shows us that three out of every five adults in Westchester are either overweight or obese. Less than half of our residents are at a healthy weight. “Being overweight can lead to strokes, diabetes, and hypertension,” Dr. Amler says. Maybe it’s time to renew that gym membership.