New York City’s death rate and infant mortality rate fell to all-time lows in 2009, the Health Department reported today in its year-end summary of vital statistics. Nearly 6,800 fewer New Yorkers died in 2009 than in 2002, despite a larger population, as the citywide death rate fell to 6.3 deaths per 1,000 people. Cardiovascular disease and other smoking-attributable illnesses claimed fewer lives last year than in 2008, and the city’s infant mortality rate reached an all-time low of 5.3 deaths per 1,000 live births. New Yorkers’ average life expectancy held steady at 79.4 years in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available. That figure – the longest ever recorded in New York City – represents a gain of 19 months since 2001. It exceeds the national average by more than a year. The findings come from the Health Department’s Annual Summary of Vital Statistics, the definitive record of births and deaths in New York City. The full report is available at

“New Yorkers are living longer, healthier lives than ever before,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “This report gives us much to be proud of.  But it also highlights continuing challenges. Thirty percent of last year’s deaths occurred in people younger than 65, many of which could have been prevented. As we celebrate the progress we’ve made, we should recommit ourselves to fighting preventable illness – both as individuals and as a community.”

Leading Causes of Death (All Ages)

RankCause2009 Deaths

2008 Deaths

1Heart Disease20,08621,192
3Influenza and Pneumonia2,2782,300
5Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases1,5291,605

Leading Causes of Premature Death (Under 65)

RankCause2009 Deaths

2008 Deaths
2Heart Disease3,3423,406
3HIV Disease847996
4Psychoactive Substances680707

Two of the city’s three leading causes of death – heart disease and influenza or pneumonia – claimed fewer lives in 2009 than in 2008, as did all five leading causes of premature death. And seven of the city’s top 10 killers took smaller tolls in 2009 than in 2008. Some highlights:

Heart Disease. Deaths from heart disease fell by more than 1,000 last year, thanks mainly to reductions heart attack and chronic ischemic heart disease. But deaths due to high blood pressure, a preventable, manageable condition that continues to affect millions of New Yorkers, continued to rise. Sodium is a leading cause of high blood pressure, and Americans typically consume more than twice the recommended limit each day – simply by eating food as it is sold in supermarkets, restaurants, and convenience stores. To address the problem, New York City is spearheading the National Salt Reduction Initiative, which aims to lower the amount of sodium in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% over five years. The Health Department is also working closely with primary-care physicians to expand blood-pressure testing and improve management of high blood pressure in people who already have it.

Cancer. The total number of cancer deaths rose slightly from 2008 to 2009, but cancer caused slightly fewer premature deaths (those in people under 65), Lung cancer deaths continued to fall, with 3.6% fewer deaths in 2009 than in 2008.  The crude death rates for lung cancer, colon cancer and female breast cancer have all declined since 2002, thanks partly to reductions in smoking and improvements in screening.

Influenza and pneumonia. The number of deaths fell slightly last year – from 2,300 to 2,278 – but the death rate for these conditions has changed little in recent years. People 65 and older account for nearly 90% of flu and pneumonia deaths. Yet recent findings from the Health Department show that the proportion of seniors who report being vaccinated in the previous year fell from 63% in 2002 to just 53% in 2009.

HIV disease. For the first time since the epidemic took off in the early 1980s, the total number of deaths from HIV fell below 1,000 last year – to 933 from 1,073 in 2008. The declining death rate likely stems from a decrease in the number of HIV diagnoses made late in the course of disease, expanded routine HIV testing and more effective care and treatment for people living with the infection. It also reflects a sharp decline in diagnoses among certain groups. The number of HIV diagnoses among injecting drug users has fallen steeply since 2002, thanks in part to the city’s syringe exchange programs, and infections in newborns have been virtually eliminated through newborn and maternal screening and treatment. At the same time, new HIV diagnoses have continued to rise among men under 30 who have sex with other men.

Smoking. Smoking still contributes to many of the city’s leading causes of death, but the number of smokers in New York City is down by 350,000 since 2002, and the benefits are now apparent. Approximately 7,200 deaths in the city were attributable to smoking last year – 400 fewer than in 2008 and 1,500 fewer than in 2002. The decline in smoking has saved about 6,300 lives since 2002, and the annual reduction in smoking-related death is likely to grow in future years, as longer-term benefits of smoke-free living are realized.

While New Yorkers, on average, are living longer than ever before, deep disparities persist among different residents of different races, incomes and neighborhoods. In 2009, Central Harlem’s age-adjusted death rate was nearly 40% higher than the citywide average (8.8 versus 6.3 deaths per 1,000 people). Other community districts with high death rates include Morrisania (8.5), Brownsville and East Harlem (8.3) and the Rockaways (8.0). Bayside enjoyed the city’s lowest death rate, with 3.7 deaths per 1,000 people, followed by Jackson Heights and Elmhurst/Corona (3.9).

Disparities persist in infant mortality as well. Last year’s rate among non-Hispanic blacks (9.5 per 1,000) was nearly twice the citywide average (5.3 per 1,000) and nearly three times the rate among non-Hispanic whites (3.4 per 1,000). Asians and Pacific Islanders had the city’s lowest infant mortality rate (2.8 per 1,000). The rates among Puerto Rican and other Hispanic New Yorkers were 6.3 and 4.8 respectively.

The City’s health policy initiative, Take Care New York, has monitored key health indicators over the past four years, and recently set new targets for improving health care, reducing tobacco and alcohol use, reducing disparities, and improving the health of neighborhoods. The agency’s three District Public Health Offices – located in Harlem, the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn – work to address health inequalities in these high-need communities by conducting research, disseminating data and fostering environmental and policy changes. The Health Department also sponsors programs designed to strengthen families and break cycles of poverty and ill health through strong parenting (e.g., the Newborn Home Visiting program and the Nurse Family Partnership).

The number of babies born in New York City dipped slightly in 2009, from 127,680 to 126,774. Teenagers 15 to 19 years old accounted for 6.1% of live births last year, down from 7.5% in 2002, but the burden of teen pregnancy continues to fall mainly on low-income minority communities. The rates among black teens (130.5 per 1,000) and Hispanic teens (108.8 per 1,000) were four to five times the rate among white teens (24.6 per 1,000). The Hispanic teen pregnancy rate fell slightly last year, while rates increased slightly among non-Hispanic whites and blacks.

To ease these disparities and sustain the decade-long decline in teen pregnancy, the City is working to improve access to contraceptives in school-based health centers and community-based clinics. The School-Based Health Center Reproductive Health Project provides a full range of sexual and reproductive health services in school clinics. In high-risk schools that lack their own health centers, the Health Department works to link sexually active students to nearby sites where they can receive birth control and other health services. Studies show that since 1995, improved contraceptive use has accounted for most of the national decline in teen pregnancy.

About the Report

The Annual Summary of Vital Statistics, the Health Department’s yearly report of births and deaths in New York City, is compiled by the agency’s Bureau of Vital Statistics. Its tables, graphs and figures present health statistics according to ethnic group, gender, age, health district, community district and borough of residence. Death rates are age-adjusted when the adjustment facilitates comparisons over time and among geographic areas. Vital Statistics Annual Summaries as far back as 1961 are available at To learn how to obtain a birth or death certificate, visit or call 311.