When your zip code matters more than your genetic code

Categories: Income and Jobs

By Rudy Fedrizzi, MD

Did you know that your housing and income have more of an impact on your health than heredity or medical care?  

Believe it. In the 90’s, researchers identified the social determinants of health that contributed to wellness and wellbeing. These factors include education, jobs, family stability, safety and access to healthy environments for wholesome food and physical activity.

You may have heard the truism that your “zip code matters more to your health than your genetic code.” And research clearly reveals that health is not equally distributed to all of us. For example, in some cities, people in one neighborhood have a life expectancy 20 years shorter than people who live just a few miles away.

The medical profession has either been ignorant to this concept or has kept it secret because it wasn’t a part of my medical education. Fortunately, this is changing, and the medical community is now talking about a concept called “population health” where medicine, public health, and communities are collectively trying to understand and address the root causes of poor health.  -Rudy Fedrizzi

In 2012, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation surveyed physicians and found that nearly 80 percent agreed that social factors were as important to the patient’s ill health as medical issues. Eighty percent of these doctors also felt powerless to address the social needs of their patients

Locally, there are reasons to be optimistic as our health system is working to create more seamless integration of medical care needs to community resources and ultimately hopes to develop an effective model to “fill the social prescription.” 

Healthy Monadnock holds the challenges of the social determinants of health as primary concerns and is using data to understand health disparities, inequity and ill health and combat them in every way possible.  

For instance, in November 2014, a community-wide Healthy Monadnock Summit dealt with how regional income and health are closely related; the previous year we gathered to discuss how the level of educational attainment is tied to health. 

We’ve learned that in our own small, tight-knit community, those who live in households with incomes of less than $25,000 are five to 10 times more likely to smoke or have diabetes compared with people who live in households that earn more than $75,000.

Healthy Monadnock includes many initiatives aimed at lessening the impact of socioeconomic disparity. For example, recent initiatives include helping the uninsured obtain health coverage, supporting low-income women to breastfeed, advancing breastfeeding friendly policies in workplaces, promoting community gardens, ensuring healthy foods in schools and workplaces, promoting farm to table programs (especially in low-income housing settings) and increasing the buying power of EBT (electronic benefit transfer) funds, and perhaps most importantly exploring ways to make a regional living wage a reality.

By addressing health in such a holistic way we can become the healthiest community in the nation. Who is inspiring you with their healthy ways? Nominate them for a Healthy Shout Out and we’d love to recognize their efforts!