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Queens County, NY: Epidemiology

Queens County, NY: Epidemiology

Abstract

Epidemiological studies and reviews play an important role in public health by helping identify patterns of health-related events and relationship between exposures and outcome. This paper provides a comprehensive review of Queens County, the largest county and second-populated of the five boroughs of New York State. The county is culturally diverse, consisting of different cultures, races, and ethnic groupings – features that make the county have unique needs and health challenges. Epidemiological issues discussed include air-quality health problem, obesity and lifestyle illness, and increased motor vehicle accidents and injuries. The paper recommends environmental justice practices in choice of energy source, clean air plan, fuel choice while obesity and related health problems can be addressed through better diets with only right amounts of carbohydrates and fats. Epidemiological studies are also necessary to estimate and compare the patterns of motor vehicle morbidities and mortality, survivability, effectiveness and challenges of emergency care delivery as an integral component of reducing accident fatalities. Findings of these studies will help policy formulation in curbing roadways accidents.

Introduction

Queens County was created in 1683 when the province of New York and government structure was being reorganized and subdivided into towns. Of the five boroughs of New York, Queens is the largest county covering approximately 283 sq km the second-populated county in New York State, after Brooklyn County. It is rated fourth-most populated county in the whole of United States. Geographically, the county neighbors Brooklyn and lies to the west part of Long Island. According to statistics held by Census Bureau (2012), Queens is one of the most populated urban areas across the world with a population in excess of 2.247 million, majority of whom are of foreign origin from over 100 different countries and representing over 138 different languages creating several unique communities. And while some areas are densely-populated others are sparsely occupied suburbs especially along Long Island – but all residents have incredible access to industries, education opportunities and goods and services supplies. In addition, Queens is well-traversed by all means of public transport with numerous highways connecting the county with Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Long Island through tunnels, bridges, ferry services as well as to the rest world via New York City`s world class airports. The county is a host to leading academic institutions, internationally acclaimed for their student diversity and well-invested curriculum.
According to 2011 population statistics, 6.1% of the population is persons under 5 years of age, 12.9% are over 65 years, 20.6% are under 18 years while 51.5% of the total population are female (Census Bureau, 2012). Ethnic and racial statistics indicate that 71.5% are whites, 17.5% blacks and the rest consists of minor racial and ethnic groups such as America Indians, Alaska Natives, Asian persons, Hispanic groups among others. Educationally, 80.0% are high school graduates while about 29.5% have at least a university degree or higher academic qualifications. There are vast business ventures and industries with manufacturer`s shipments in excess of $5.6 billion, wholesaler sales $15.3billion, and food services sales in excess of $2.2billion as per 2007 statistics (Census Bureau, 2012). Queens is endowed with state-of-the-art nine modern hospital facilities spread throughout the county so that healthcare services are evenly distributed and accessible.

Epidemiological Issues in Queens

Air Pollution

A leading public health issue at Queens is environmental hazards particularly air pollution. Indeed, being one of the densely populated urban areas in the world, Queens is a home to numerous sources of air pollution (Woolf et al., 2003, p. 1). For instance, on its northwest wing, there are at least four power generating plants, has vast transport networks, expressways, and airports. This is in addition to numerous large production industries and a 2.247 million population hence extensive economic activities that considerably affects air quality. But it is worth noting that while the host many considerably vast sources of air pollution, a significant component of the county`s pollution comes from sources located upwind states (Woolf et al., 2003, p. 9). Air pollution being a huge pollution in the borough, it consequently affects air quality of the neighbouring regions, hence a public health problem throughout Northeastern United States. This problem is further complicated by the fact that the pollutants come from quite diverse sources thus; setting priorities for improving air quality is difficult task for policymakers. Multiple air pollutants also increase health risks (Murray & Gordon, 2012). These pollutants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, Ozone, lead, and articulate matter suspended in the air. In essence, these hazardous air pollutants are risk and detrimental to human health as people exposed to such pollutants for long periods have increased risk for developing cancer, weak immune system, neurological disorders, reduced fertility, respiratory and developmental health problems (Woolf et al., 2003, p. 6). Therefore, air quality is a serious health challenge for Queens County and its neighbouring regions.

Obesity and Lifestyle Illnesses

One of the most current health problems in Queens County and New York State at large is the problem of obesity and lifestyle illnesses such as cancer and diabetes. But of all these, obesity stands out as a health issue that continue to stir prejudices while demand for fast-foods continues to escalate high (Markus & Matthias, 2003, p. 27). This has also been exacerbated by increased advertising creating a scenario where in this county, it seems that food is available at every street hence can be purchased, consumed, and advertised everywhere. While this is not an isolated case of Queens but America at large, the fact that two-thirds of American population do have a problem with weights and only a third that does not have a serious food disease. The number of overweight individuals has continued to increase steadily, hence making obesity an epidemiological issue at a time when many people in developed economies are increasing succumbing to lifestyle diseases (Stanhope & Lancaster, 2008, p. 57). Indeed, while the county enjoys high standard of living, unparalleled in history by many other counties, well nourished with good housing, clean water, and sewerage systems – the Queens is not entirely well. The fact that the health challenges dominating recent past decades have been replaced by new morbidity – obesity and other illness resulting from lifestyle habits, this is an awakening call for the health policymakers. For instance, about 17.1% of the Queens County residents are obese while 33.5% lack physical body exercise (Department Of Health, 2007). This has subsequently led to high prevalence other diseases such as stroke, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Epidemiological studies are therefore, of utmost essence to provide current statistics on obesity and other non-communicable chronic diseases in the county.

Traffic Accidents and Injuries

United States registers thousands of deaths every year from vehicle accidents and injuries every year. Due to the large population and heavy flow of vehicles, Queens County continue to register great number of motor vehicle accidents every year. Statistics indicate that second-worst-hit of the five New York City boroughs with most accidents resulting in fatalities and serious physical and property damage. According to Department Of Health (2007), road crashes on Queens’s roadways resulted to hospitalization charges of $39.7 million and $ 17.0 million on emergency department charges with highest averages charges being for motorcyclists and pedestrians. Highest causes for these accidents included speeding, distracted driving and failure give right of way. In the view of the above, traffic accidents and injuries is an epidemiological problem and a public health concern at large.

Public Health Approaches

Air pollution is a real health threat in the county hence preventive approaches need to be developed. For instance, being a densely populated area and served by four large power plants with numerous combustion turbines, the electricity demands are exceptionally high in such populated area with vast activities. Also, the county is culturally and economically diverse, with high, middle and low-income classes hence these demographics indicate that `environmental justice` policies and concepts should be considered especially on location of sources of air pollution (Woolf et al., 2003, p. 40). This paper therefore recommends implementation of energy efficiency measures such installation of solar power systems that with emission-free electricity which would supplement existing energy sources and reduce demand of energy from combustible turbines and closure of old, inefficient power plants. In addition, there is need to draw a clean air plan for reduction of emissions such as toxic gases for instance through fuel use such as by replacing oil with gas combustion – which can reduce sulfur dioxide, for instance to near zero-values. Transport pollution emission can also be influenced by the vehicle distance travelled, emission rates, and types of vehicles – some vehicles are heavy duty diesel consumers. Future policies on improving air quality should take this into consideration.
Regarding lifestyle and obesity, there is need to keep check the amount of carbohydrates taken per meal. Studies indicate that Americans do consume vast amounts of carbohydrates hence energy consumption reduced by eating rigid fat-free diet is reversed by these carbohydrates (Markus & Matthias, 2003, p. 27). Also, low quality food has been connected with the problem of obesity especially among the low income-households – which also results to food allergies and other illnesses (Engber, 2012). Another possible approach to addressing obesity and related health troubles is developing and setting-up comprehensive public physical exercise facilities throughout the county while also carrying out fast foods and exercise awareness campaigns to educate the masses on their health implications.
Controlling and minimizing road accidents calls for support from government heath, traffic departments, and civil organizations. Also, severe penalties should be enforced on drivers found to be over speeding, under influence of alcohol, underage, and traffic rule violators. Mass awareness through educational programs can also help reverse accidents trend. Road mortalities and morbidities are least studied from an epidemiological perspective, hence there is need to study and document emerging trend in road accidents, patient care, and challenges.

Conclusion

Epidemiological studies are integral healthcare component in addressing public health needs. The epidemiological issues highlighted included air quality problem due to high human activity, industrial, and energy pollution; problem of lifestyle diseases such as obesity due to poor eating habits and lack of physical exercises, and increased road accidents and traffic injuries. Approaches recommended included `environmental justice` policies regarding power generation sites, clean air plan, and shift to gas combustion. On obesity, improved eating habits with reduced intakes for carbohydrates and fats, and physical exercises are particularly critical. To curb mortalities and morbidities from motor vehicles accidents, efforts from health and traffic departments are needed to curb road accidents with heavy penalties for drunk drivers, traffic rules violators, and underage drivers. Epidemiological studies are also needed on road accidents to give a picture of the trend and nature of accidents, pre-hospital treatment and patient care, and challenges facing emergency and accident departments.

References

Census Bureau (2012). Queens County, New York. Retrieved on 23 Sept. 2012 from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/36081.html
Department of Health. (2007). Obesity statistics for queens county. Retrieved on 23 Sept. 2012 from http://www.health.ny.gov/statistics/prevention/obesity/county/queens.htm
Engber, D. (Sept 12, 2012). The fatter of two evils: Why are Americans more afraid of gaining weight than smoking cigarettes? Slate, (Sept 12, 2012).
Markus, N., & Matthias, V. (2007). Eating in America: A cultural survey. Norderstedt: Verlag Publishers.
Murray, F., & Gordon, M. (2012). Air pollution and health in rapidly developing countries. New York, NY: Routledge.
Stanhope, M., & Lancaster, J. (2008). Public health nursing: Population-centered health care in the community. St. Louis, MI: Mosby Elsevier.
Woolf, T., Keith, G., White, D., et al. (2003). Air quality in Queens County: Opportunities for cleaning up the air in queens county and neighboring regions. Synapse Energy Economics, 1-116. Retrieved on 23 Sept. 2012 from http://www.synapse-energy.com/Downloads/SynapseReport.2003-05.NYC.Queens-Air-Quality.01-67-Full%20Report.pdf