Introduction: In 1980, age-adjusted mortality rates in Central Harlem were the highest among New York City's 30 health districts. This population-based study was designed to describe the self-reported frequency of selected health conditions, behavioral risk factors, preventive health practices, and drug use in the Harlem community.
Methods: From 1992 to 1994, in-person interviews were conducted among 695 adults aged 18 to 65 years who were randomly selected from dwelling-unit enumeration lists for the Central Harlem health district. Descriptive statistics were computed for men and women separately, and compared to other population-based surveys.
Results: Self-reported medical insurance coverage in Harlem was unexpectedly high (74% of men, 86% of women) as was lifetime use of preventive health practices, e.g., blood cholesterol screening (58% of men, 70% of women). However, lifetime rates of substance use, e.g. crack cocaine (14%) and self-reported history of traumatic events, e.g., witnessing someone seriously injured or violently killed (49% of men, 21% of women) were also high in Harlem, especially in comparison to other populations.
Conclusions: This study has identified important patterns of similarities and differences in risk behaviors between Harlem and other populations. Potential solutions to the health problems of Harlem may lie in the creation of strategies that operate at the community, municipal, and regional level, as well as at the level of individual behavior and risk-taking.