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Long Island smoking, obesity lower than U.S. averages, life expectancy higher, county-by-county analysis finds

If you live on Long Island, chances are you smoke less, weigh less and can expect to live longer than people in the rest of the United States, according to a new report.

At the same time, Suffolk driving deaths involving alcohol and Nassau air pollution concentrations were higher than the state and national averages, according to the county-by-county rankings by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

While Long Islanders fared better than the average county in the nation — Suffolk was on par with other New York counties and Nassau did better — experts said not everyone reaps the benefits of living in the comfortable suburbs.

“When you look at a county and you put it all together, you can inadvertently leave out where you have pockets of disparities or pockets of poverty,” said Dr. Debbie Salas-Lopez, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health based in New Hyde Park.


  • Long Islanders have lower rates of adult smoking and adult obesity than the national average of counties, according to a new report.
  • Experts said people in some underserved neighborhoods may have more health problems because they do not have access to resources like some of their wealthier neighbors.
  • The report suggests hundreds of solutions, ranging from more school health centers and parks to making broadband internet more accessible.

While the annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps doesn’t break down the information more locally, experts said it’s useful for evaluating how healthier communities thrive. They generally have better access to information via broadband internet, libraries, adequately funded schools and an abundance of parks and recreational facilities, the report stated.

Life expectancy on Long Island is also higher than the national average: 79.6 years in Suffolk County and 81.5 in Nassau County. Nationally, it’s 77.6 years. Statewide, it’s 79.7.

The report allows people to review data from counties across the United States next to state and national trends.

“Being able to compare counties across state lines can help us to explore patterns and really build a movement of local leaders and state leaders that are focused together on assuring that everybody in every place has what they need to thrive,” said Sheri Johnson, director of the Population Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and principal investigator.

According to the report, 13% of adults in Suffolk County and 11% in Nassau County smoke compared with 12% in New York State and 15% across the United States.

And 30% of adults in Suffolk County and 27% of adults in Nassau County are obese compared with 29% statewide and 34% across the nation.

The study also showed a wide disparity in access to primary care physicians between the counties. There are 734 residents per doctor in Nassau County, and 1,403 per doctor in Suffolk County. Statewide, the ratio is 1,245 to 1, and nationally it’s 1,334 to 1.

Salas-Lopez also pointed out fewer public transportation options in sprawling Suffolk County can make it even more challenging to reach the doctor’s office than in Nassau County.

On the other hand, Nassau’s density could be the reason air pollution is higher, she said. The average daily density of the particulate matter in micrograms per cubic meter was 6.4 in Suffolk, 8.5 in Nassau, 6.9 statewide and 7.4 nationally.

“That’s where advocacy and public policy and activating our community to use their voices for things that might be detrimental comes in,” she said. “Do we need a lot of bus depots in a particular community?”

One troubling statistic shows that 25% of driving deaths in Suffolk County involved alcohol, one point under the national rate of 26%. Nassau had 17% and New York State was 21%.

Another indicator shows a fair number of people are sleepless in Suffolk. The report notes that 35% of adults in that county have insufficient sleep, compared with 34% in Nassau, 33% in the state and 33% for the nation.

“There are vast differences in the opportunities that people have for health, so our data is a starting point,” Johnson said. “We invite people at the local level to use our data with other sources of data to really work together to make sure that everyone has what they need.”

She said the report also offers more than 400 policies and practices that people can consider using in their municipalities to better serve and engage people, ranging from adding more community health workers and school-based health centers to expanding public libraries and automatic voter registration.