News / USA

City Living Can be Bad for Your Health

High number of poor urban residents poses special challenges for health professionals

Health risks associated with 21st century city living include overcrowding, poor air quality, indoor air pollution, respiratory problems and high population density.
Health risks associated with 21st century city living include overcrowding, poor air quality, indoor air pollution, respiratory problems and high population density.

Multimedia

Audio

The vast majority of Americans live in cities and urban life carries special health risks. Overcrowding leads to greater stress, which can lead to violence, according to Dr. Jo Boufford, president of the New York Academy of Medicine. And the complexity of cities makes them harder to navigate, which can lead to, or complicate, mental illness. City air is often polluted, and that can cause respiratory problems.

"All of those things play out in an urban environment in ways they don’t play out outside of cities, and they have an effect on people’s health, on people’s well being and on daily life," says Boufford. "But the real thing that runs through higher incidence of disease is largely poverty. That’s the bottom line."

The fact that a high proportion of urban residents are poor, poses special challenges for health professionals, who gathered recently at a National Urban Health Conference in New York. Health workers, academics and community activists met to share strategies for delivering quality health care to the urban poor.  

Many people from the business world also attended the urban health conference. Employers who buy health insurance for their workers must pay higher premiums when more employees become sick. That cuts into profits. That’s why many employers offer preventative care.

"They provide health education opportunities for their own employees. Many of them provide opportunities ‘in-house’ for people to stop smoking," Boufford says. "They provide programs for people who feel they may be depressed or they have a substance abuse problem to get help, weight-loss programs, exercise programs, giving people a break in lunch hour to get out into the community and walk. So the return on investment is pretty clear at this point."

Obesity - a condition which can lead to diabetes, cancers and cardiac and respiratory problems - is epidemic in America’s cities. The Centers for Disease Control reports that more than half of New York African-Americans are obese. Javier Lopez, director of New York’s Strategic Alliance for Health, says the problem is especially severe among children in minority neighborhoods.

He believes fatty, highly-processed foods are partly to blame, but so is lack of exercise. He says that some of New York City’s educational policies for example, such as mandatory standardized testing, don’t help. When there is an open hour in a school day schedule, teachers often choose to fill it with academic drilling rather than physical education.    

"So then you have to look at opportunities outside of the school day for physical activity. You have more bike lanes, for instance, in some urban settings now. So now you have to think about what programs are going to bring young people use those bike lanes," says Lopez. "You have to think about what bike-sharing programs are available in urban settings and thinking outside the box, using the landscape to be more effective for physical activity."

Lopez says that his obesity prevention work focuses on adults as well as children.

"For adults, the opportunity lies in educating on the availability of free and inexpensive programs. A lot of community centers offer free exercise classes that are readily available for folks. It’s just that a lot of the advertising and marketing for some of those programs need to be bulked up so more people can take advantage of them."

Better health education is key, says Dr. Aubrey Clark, a Harlem Hospital Center cardiologist. He led a panel at the conference on atherosclerosis. That’s a clogging of the arteries linked to stress, poor diet and other factors which can lead to diabetes, heart attack, stroke and other health issues.

"In terms of an institution, the education would involve outreach, screening in the communities, symposia and other outreach-type conferences to reach different organizations within the community, and inviting community members to functions such as this," says Clark. "On the clinical level, we want to make sure we have a multidisciplinary team approach to our patients, not only when they are acutely ill and hospitalized but to prepare them upon discharge to make sure they know what they are responsible for in terms of making sure that their health is as best as they can have it."

Boufford adds that health education is actually a two-way street between health providers and the communities they serve. This can be difficult in urban communities where many illegal immigrants live. They fear that visibility may lead to deportation. But in the case of outreach to the elderly by the New York Academy of Medicine and its partners, the efforts are bearing fruit.

"What do they say makes it easier or harder to live in the city?" says Boufford. "The kinds of things they raise are crossing the street, 'The streetlights are too fast. I can’t get across the street.’ ‘The sidewalks have pits or holes in them.’ ‘I can’t come out at night.’ ‘I can’t sit down when I go to a local business.’ These are simple things to solve and part of our initiative is to help do that."       

Many participants at the National Urban Health Conference said they gained both knowledge and encouragement from the gathering. But most agreed that the challenges facing health care providers in America’s cities will continue to grow in the decades to come.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More