Introduction

To understand the physical and mental health of Central New York’s residents, you can look at everything from health behaviors to disease outcomes and access to health services. However you look at it, it’s clear that social factors have a huge impact on health.

Health Icon

By examining health trends in our community, we reveal significant areas of need, especially among our poorest residents and people of color.
There are high obesity rates across our region, including our rural low-income communities. This points to barriers many people face in choosing a healthy lifestyle, such as difficulty affording fresh fruits and vegetables.

The indicators also point to high levels of lead exposure in our local children, especially those living in low-income neighborhoods of Onondaga and Cayuga counties. Children younger than 6 years old are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development, leading to brain damage and learning problems. This can affect their ability to succeed in school later in life.

Data clearly show mental health needs and domestic violence are problems in our neighborhoods as well. By looking at our local rates, we can estimate where we need the proper supports to address these issues head-on. Both can be corrosive to families and affect the ability to maintain stable employment and safe neighborhoods.

The state of health in our region is complicated and far-reaching, but by being knowledgeable of local needs, we can make informed decisions that will have a direct impact on the health and happiness of our neighbors.

Obesity

Obesity Rates - Onondaga County

Obesity Rates - Madison County

Obesity Rates - Oswego County

Obesity Rates - Cayuga County

Obesity Rates - Cortland County

Obesity Rates - Syracuse

Obesity Rates - Oneida

Obesity Rates - Oswego City

Obesity Rates - Auburn

Obesity Rates - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Central New York counties have high rates of obesity.

An adult who has a Body Mass Index (BMI) at or above 30 is considered obese. In 2019, Cortland, Cayuga, and Oswego Counties had the highest rates of obesity in the Central New York region, at 33 to 34 percent. In Onondaga County 30 percent of adults were obese, and in Madison County 29 percent of adults were obese in the same time period.

The obesity rates in Central New York are higher than those in New York State overall, where an estimated 27 percent of the population was obese in 2019. Data show clear disparities by factors such as income, race and disability status. Census tract data show high obesity rates in Syracuse, Auburn, and Oswego County relative to other parts of the region. Locally and nationally, obesity rates have steadily risen over the past few decades.

Why Does It Matter?

Obesity causes serious health issues and is both a symptom and result of poverty.

People who are obese statistically have a higher risk of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. They are also more likely to experience mental illness, body pain, and many other serious health conditions. Collectively, obesity-related disease and death takes a tremendous toll on our community. This also places an increased burden on our local health care system and has an economic impact, raising costs for private health insurance and tax-payer funded public insurance programs.

Lack of access to healthy food or exercise increases one’s likelihood of becoming obese. People who live in food deserts – areas with little access to affordable, nutritious food – or who lack access to regular transportation to grocery stores have tremendous barriers to living a healthy lifestyle. This is reflected in the lowest-income census tracts in Syracuse. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 28 low-income census tracts within the city are more than half a mile from the nearest supermarket.

In 2017, the Onondaga County Health Department released a food environment map of Syracuse, which shows obesity rates among adults over the age of 18 were the highest in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. About half of the census tracts in Syracuse were considered food deserts at that time, as most only have corner stores that mainly sell prepared foods that are made with artificial ingredients and are high in calories and fat, instead of major supermarkets that supply fresh foods and healthier options at lower cost.

The connection between poverty, food access, and health outcomes is seen clearly when you look at data for specific zip codes. For example, within zip code 13202, 68 percent of children lived in poverty, the median household income was $15,565 and 50 percent of people had no available access to a grocery store or a vehicle, based on data from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey. The same area has some of the city’s high hospitalization rates. For every 10,000 people, 48.9 were hospitalized for diabetes and 80.1 were hospitalized for heart failure, the latter being the highest rate among any zip code in the city.

Obesity causes serious health issues and is both a symptom and result of poverty.

A Local Story

Stepping Up to Health & Wellness

Step Up Moment founder – and full-time accountant by day – Kate Waltman can’t believe that the organization she founded alongside her brother and others just turned two years old. It’s been a whirlwind and a balancing act all at the same time, but she wouldn’t change it for anything.

Step Up Moment hosts free fitness classes in the Rescue Mission chapel for the homeless and those living in poverty. After participants participate in five consecutive classes, they receive a grocery store gift card to purchase healthy foods. The classes are always high energy, a mix of young and old exercising to upbeat tunes.

As Step Up continues to spread its message throughout Central New York, the team is beginning to tackle another topic equally as important as exercise: nutrition.

After getting to know their participants well over the lifetime of the program, instructors realized that nutrition required just as much attention as getting up and moving. The crew took a proactive approach – reaching out to people to collect ideas and suggestions that would further enhance their experience. The program is now introducing a three-tier system to address good nutrition habits.

Tier One is outlined as the most common, Waltman notes. Once a participant is awarded a gift card, instructors introduce the idea of good eating habits and restrictions on the card’s use.

“By that point, they’ve already filled out a survey and they share with us some of their nutritional habits,” Waltman said. “At this stage, we can usually gauge their comfort level with cooking, shopping and preparing their food.”

Tier Two is more structured. The organization will talk to the participants more in-depth about what to buy at their local grocery stores because, according to Waltman, many have never purchased healthy food before.

And lastly, Tier Three is the most aggressive approach – a Step Up Moment member physically accompanies the participants to the grocery store.

“We will go with them, shop with them and talk to them about what they can prepare – Tier Three is full support,” Waltman said.

Waltman lights up when she thinks about the people who have thrived under Step Up Moment. One of those in particular is Ron Thompson, a former addict of almost 30 years who put himself through rehab and took to Step-Up instantly. In addition to his weekly workout at the Rescue Mission, he also went to the Y and became interested in eating healthy.

“Ron sets the best example at Step Up Moment and demonstrates how much change you can make,” Waltman said. “In addition to exercise, we helped him with improving his nutrition. He bought himself a blender; we taught him how to make smoothies. He’s the ultimate success story because people can see how that translates into life decisions.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Teach fitness classes for Step Up Moment Learn More »
Donate
Provide funding for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s food assistance programming Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a community action group Learn More »

Mental Health

Mental Health - Onondaga County

Mental Health - Madison County

Mental Health - Oswego County

Mental Health - Cayuga County

Mental Health - Cortland County

Mental Health - Syracuse

Mental Health - Oneida

Mental Health - Oswego City

Mental Health - Auburn

Mental Health - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Mental health affects a high number of adults and children.

One way we measure mental health is by assessing the number of days people report having felt mentally unhealthy in the past month. Currently, residents of Central New York counties have an average of 3.9 mentally unhealthy days per month. The average number of unhealthy days has fluctuated for each county, but is currently fairly flat after a slight upward trend. Cortland and Oswego Counties had the highest number in 2019 with an average of 4.1 days per month.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, over one in five adults in America experience mental illness, and one in 20 live with a serious mental illness. Over 19 percent of adults live with anxiety disorders and nearly eight percent live with major depression.

Mental illness varies by race and identities. Approximately 22.2 percent of Non-Hispanic white adults live with a mental health condition, while 17.3 percent of Non-Hispanic black adults and 14.4 percent of Non-Hispanic Asian adults live with a mental health condition. In addition, the prevalence of mental health conditions is significantly higher in the LGBTQ community, at 44.1 percent.

Why Does It Matter?

Service gaps and stigmas prevent people from seeking help.

Access to behavioral healthcare, regardless of healthcare coverage, is critical for treating people that have mental health conditions. Untreated mental health problems can lead to homelessness, suicide, substance abuse, unemployment, and domestic violence.

Often people who struggle with mental health disorders in our culture are viewed as being personally weak or broken. This negative stigma can deter people from seeking help when needed. Mental health disorders are often caused by biological factors such as genetics, trauma and abuse, family history, or environmental stressors. Childhood trauma and other experiences that may harm a child’s health may lead to behavioral health needs as adults.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, only 44 percent of adults and less than 20 percent of children and teens with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment.

Effective treatment of an individual’s mental health disorder can make them more productive, lower their medical and disability costs and decrease their absenteeism from work or school. In turn, properly addressing a community’s behavioral health needs can lead to better educational outcomes, a more productive economy, longer lifespans, greater personal safety, and lower healthcare costs and crime rates.

For many years Central New York experienced a shortage of mental health providers, particularly for youth, leading to long waiting lists. The most recent Community Health Assessment conducted in Onondaga County found access to mental health services is one of residents’ top concerns.

Strategies are needed to increase access to quality care as well as support systems to ensure both long-term and short-term mental health for our residents. One positive recent development is the opening of a new outpatient mental health treatment program for teens.

Service gaps and stigmas prevent people from seeking help.

A Local Story

Addressing Trauma on our Streets

At 1:00 a.m., Timothy Jennings-Bey drove down the dark, quiet Syracuse streets to a grisly murder scene. There he met with a grieving mother who just witnessed her son being gunned down in front of their home. Standing next to her was the victim’s thirteen year-old brother, with a look of devastation and anger reflected in his features.

Most couldn’t imagine pulling themselves out of bed in the middle of the night to face such a heartbreaking scene. But to Jennings-Bey, it is an all too common horror in his mission to put a stop to street violence and its resulting trauma. He serves as the Trauma Response Team’s Director and founder of the Street Addiction Institute (SAI). 

Jennings-Bey founded SAI two years ago after studying the concept of behavioral addiction to street violence, culminating in the national publication of his 2014 paper, Street Addiction: A Proposed Theoretical Model for Understanding the Draw of Street Life and Gang Activity, in the Journal of Addiction Research and Theory. Now, through SAI, he sets out to break the cycle of neighborhood violence and associated trauma that can lead to retaliation and a life of incarceration and poverty.

The gravity of seeing a friend get shot, losing a loved one, or even just living in and around violent neighborhoods can cause feelings of grief and fear, leading to post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, revenge violence, and detachment from friends, family and school, according to the Syracuse Neighborhood Violence Research Network. This can impede one’s ability to maintain healthy relationships, gain a proper education, or secure a job.

2016 was the deadliest year in Syracuse’s history. There were 31 murders reported in Syracuse that year, making the city’s per-capita homicide rate higher than that of other Upstate New York cities and five times higher than New York City.

“The impact of this violence in such a small geographic area is that most members of the community know multiple people who have been shot, stabbed, and/or killed,” said Jennings-Bey. “Many affected people are experiencing trauma similar to those who live in war zones. We need to tackle this head-on and protect our communities by preventing future trauma from repeating itself in these neighborhoods.”

SAI actively works with the Trauma Response Team as well as other community groups to conduct intervention and prevention services around issues related to trauma, grief, loss, violence, and behavioral addiction. SAI utilizes messengers – such as therapists, pastors, and social workers – within high-violence neighborhoods who can best connect with the challenges that residents are facing. These messengers are on the front lines, responding to neighborhood shootings and providing help to the victims’ families.

SAI is currently working on becoming an independent organization. This includes opening and staffing an office with a dedicated associate that will manage operations, grant requests, service contracts, and programming, putting the organization in a better position to serve more individuals and combat violence more effectively.

“Many affected people are experiencing trauma similar to those who live in war zones. We need to tackle this head-on and protect our communities by preventing future trauma from repeating itself in these neighborhoods.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Provide emotional support for parents and guardians at David’s Refuge Learn More »
Donate
Support Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »

Lead Exposure

Lead Exposure Among Children - Onondaga County

Lead Exposure Among Children - Madison County

Lead Exposure Among Children - Oswego County

Lead Exposure Among Children - Cayuga County

Lead Exposure Among Children - Cortland County

Lead Exposure Among Children - Syracuse

Lead Exposure Among Children - Oneida

Lead Exposure Among Children - Oswego City

Lead Exposure Among Children - Auburn

Lead Exposure Among Children - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Lead poisoning is highest in Cayuga and Onondaga counties.

When swallowed or inhaled, lead is extremely harmful to both children and adults. People can become exposed to lead through chipped house paint, dust, soil, and pipes. In the Central New York region, the most common source of lead poisoning is chipping paint in and around homes built before 1978, when federal regulations banned the use of lead-based paint. Children under the age of six are most susceptible to ingesting paint chips most commonly found on floors and window sills. Another common source of lead poisoning is when children unknowingly inhale dust particles created from the friction of painted surfaces when windows, doors and cabinets are opened and closed.

An elevated blood lead level of over five mcg/dl in children is considered high lead exposure. However, any amount of lead can be dangerous.
In 2014, Cayuga County had the highest levels of high lead exposure among children, coming in at 18.6 percent. Onondaga County followed with 14.7 percent. Cortland County had the lowest rate of lead exposure at 4.5 percent.

Since January 2010, 30 Cayuga County children were found to have concerning lead levels in their blood. Of those, 22 lived in the city of Auburn and 16 lived in rental units.

According to the Onondaga County Health Department, in 2019, 10.4 percent of Syracuse children tested had elevated blood lead levels. Lead poisoning rates look even higher when you zoom in to analyze those census tracts that also report high levels of poverty and poor housing conditions.

In census tract 23, which is located just north of Interstate 690 between Pearl and Lodi streets, nearly 17 percent of children tested had high blood lead levels. Census tract 54, located in the Brighton neighborhood of Syracuse’s Southside, had an even higher rate with more than 26 percent of tested children having high blood lead levels. Here, a striking 42.7 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

Why Does It Matter?

Lead exposure is extremely harmful to children and adults.

Lead paint was banned in 1978, but more than 90 percent of occupied homes in the city of Syracuse were built before that regulation was enacted.

When children inhale or swallow lead-based paint dust or chips, they are ingesting lead into their bodies. Lead has a sweet taste, making it even more tempting to children. There is no safe blood lead level, as a child’s development and intellectual function can be affected by exposure at any level. Lead in the human body has been found to reduce brain function, impacting the skills needed for academic success, physical activity and social interaction. It can lead to a higher likelihood of attention deficit disorders, criminal behavior, violence, and suicide. Increased impulsivity and aggression, along with a shorter attention span, are likely to influence a child’s everyday social encounters and success in school.

In 2018, the Central New York Community Foundation announced that it was investing $2 million over four years to help end childhood lead poisoning through its LeadSafeCNY initiative. Learn more

Lead exposure is extremely harmful to children and adults.

A Local Story

Investing in Neighborhoods

Jung Hoon Ryu moved to Syracuse from South Korea in 2005. During his mission work with the Boaz Project at his church, Korean Church of Syracuse, he encountered abandoned, broken and neglected housing on the Northside.

“I could see the broken hearts of the residents living in those conditions,” said Jung. “I realized then that God led me to Syracuse to help make change for them.”

Using his construction and architecture background, Jung established Building the Bridge USA to rebuild broken homes and communities and provide construction job opportunities for other New Americans. Through his involvement with Hopeprint, he was hired as the general contractor for one of its first lead-safe renovation projects.

On a warm August Day, Nicole Watts, CEO and founder of Hopeprint Inc., toured us around the Northside neighborhood. She loves the community of neighbors, the sound of the Assumption Church bells that play every hour and the kids playing in their yards. And she’s not the only one. The New Americans that settle in this neighborhood and find community through Hopeprint’s programs do, too.

“Folks come to us, and we build together,” Watts said. “We help them on their trajectory to thriving, and after a few years, many are ready to be homeowners, but they aren’t staying here.”

For more than a decade, Hopeprint has served the local resettled New American community through family empowerment programs, community navigation supports, and neighborhood development.

After a series of community dialogues, Hopeprint recently launched its micro-neighborhood reinvestment strategy, which seeks to address the area’s lack of quality, affordable housing. The strategy is multi-stepped with a focus on advocating for equitable transit options, right-sized housing, and business development. The chosen micro-neighborhood is a stretch of 30 blocks inside a boundary of four Northside streets (Park St., E. Division St., North Salina, and Kirkpatrick).

“We want to invest in these 30 blocks, so that residents can prosper in place,” Watts said. “So they don’t have to move away, and leave the community they’ve built here.”

Hopeprint approached Greater Syracuse Land Bank to purchase vacant homes and properties in the area, and hopes to start renovations on properties this fall. With support from the Community Foundation’s LeadSafeCNY initiative, Hopeprint will remodel the houses to be lead-safe.

According to the Onondaga County Health Department, more than 10 percent of Syracuse children tested in 2019 were shown to have elevated lead levels. On the Northside, such as in census tract 23, that number jumps to 16 percent – or one in every six kids. Our LeadSafeCNY initiative is committed to data-driven investments to eradicate childhood lead poisoning that disproportionately affects communities of color in the county.

“Our focus is on the people that call this place home,” Watts said. “This initiative is an investment in housing, but ultimately it’s an investment in people.”

As we walked the streets on the Northside, Watts pointed out the vacant houses and empty lots that she’s hoping to one day move families into. Some are full tear-downs, and others will take a lot of love and care, but it’s easy to see her vision as she talks.

She sees the problems – the broken windows, the faltering foundations – but just as easily sees the businesses that might one day root the corner of DeMong Park, or the new parents moving into their first home on North Alvord.

“We want to make sure that there are viable options for our families who want to stay on the Northside, and that there’s a quality home available to them,” Watts said.

As a Northside property owner and budding developer himself, Jung shares Hopeprint’s desire to see the Northside be a place where people can prosper in place.

“This is the first big step to reaching the light at the end of the tunnel and opening the door to the future for residents on the Northside,” he said.

 

“Our focus is on the people that call this place home,” Watts said. “This initiative is an investment in housing, but ultimately it’s an investment in people.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Provide patient care at Upstate Medical University Learn More »
Donate
Assist the Rahma Health Clinic Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »

Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence - Onondaga County

Domestic Violence - Madison County

Domestic Violence - Oswego County

Domestic Violence - Cayuga County

Domestic Violence - Cortland County

Domestic Violence - Syracuse

Domestic Violence - Oneida

Domestic Violence - Oswego City

Domestic Violence - Auburn

Domestic Violence - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

Domestic violence is a widespread community issue in our region.

The Division of Criminal Justice Services tracks data on victims of reported domestic violence incidents. The incidents are broken down into four categories: sex offense, violation of a protection order, aggravated assault and simple assault. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, aggravated assaults involve an attack or attempted attack with a weapon or an attack without a weapon where serious injury occurs. Simple assaults are defined as an attack without a weapon resulting in minor or no injury; most domestic violence incidents in Central New York fall in this category.

In 2017 there were a total of 4,105 domestic violence victims in Onondaga County. This means close to one percent of the Onondaga County population have experienced domestic violence. In 2017 Cayuga County had 45 victims of reported sex offenses, which was the highest number of any Central New York county.

Sadly, these data do not reflect the true magnitude of the problem, because incidents of domestic violence are vastly under-reported. It is estimated that nearly half of domestic violence incidents are never reported.

Why Does It Matter?

Domestic violence creates lasting devastating effects.

Domestic violence often happens behind closed doors, but affects entire families and social networks, including friends of victims and employers. When violence is occurring around children, they often become victims themselves or live in constant fear or worry that their parent may be harmed.

This issue is a pervasive problem that affects people regardless of their background or income. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in four women and one in ten men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. Domestic violence hotlines receive over 19,000 calls on a typical day.

NCADV estimates that intimate partner violence leads to an estimated loss of 8 million paid work days each year leading to annual costs of between $5.8 billion and $12.6 billion. The ripple effect continues into the criminal justice system and health care systems, which provide intervention and treatment to those impacted by violence.

Vera House, a service agency in Onondaga County, provides shelter, advocacy and services for women, men and children suffering the effects of domestic and sexual violence. In its 2019 Annual Report to the Community, the organization reported that in 2018, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office received more than 6,800 domestic violence calls, while the Syracuse Police Department received nearly 10,800.

One homicide in 2018 was found to be related to intimate partner violence in Onondaga County. The NCADV reports that half of all female homicide victims and 1 in 13 of all male homicide victims are killed by a current or former intimate partner.

Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in our culture. Often a person experiencing any type of physical or emotional violence at home may become isolated from family or friends, further limiting their ability to connect or reach out for help.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you can seek help by contacting Vera House’s 24-hour crisis and support line at 315-468-3260.

Domestic violence creates lasting devastating effects.

A Local Story

A Place of Refuge and Healing

Jolie Moran doesn’t see herself ever working for anyone other than Vera House. She started her career there 10 years ago and hasn’t looked back. It has not only been a safe haven for countless survivors, but a place of refuge for her as well. 

“It was about five years after the incident before I even said the words, ‘I was raped’,” Moran said. “After working here for some time, I was more easily able to work through my own trauma.”

Moran doesn’t shy away from her story. In a way, she relates to the survivors on a personal level as Vera House’s Outreach and Advocacy Program Coordinator. She currently supervises nine advocates who provide services to individuals in Onondaga County affected by domestic and sexual violence, elder abuse, and other crimes.

“We are, what I would like to consider, the emergency room of Vera House,” Moran said. “If there is someone in need, someone in crisis, our advocates are the ones responding to them.”

Vera House offers a 24-hour support line, often staffed by volunteers, that provides referrals and support to anyone affected by domestic violence.

“We could not do the work that we do without the help of our volunteers,” Moran said. “There is so much need in our community. We have a team of volunteers that helps us respond to the hospitals, we have a group that will help answer the crisis support line, and volunteers down in our family court helping to fill out orders of protection for people that need them.”

Moran explains that Vera House is where survivors can attend to the process of healing at their own pace and take advantage of the resources on hand.

“We provide a safe space for people to be able to share with us what they need to share,” said Moran. “We never want to pry information out of them.”

Aside from supplying pertinent information and education, Vera House also has close-knit working relationships with the local hospitals as well as police departments. All  collaborate and work toward the same goal: to eradicate domestic and sexual abuse.

As Moran puts it, working at Vera House has allowed her to engage in her own healing process while carrying out the mission of an organization that is helping others, like her, who are setting out to live in a world “free of violence and abuse.”

“It was about five years after the incident before I even said the words, ‘I was raped’,” Moran said. “After working here for some time, I was more easily able to work through my own trauma.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Be a crisis call volunteer at Vera House Learn More »
Donate
Fund advocacy services through BRiDGES Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »