“Your zip code is a more powerful predictor of your health than your genetic code,” David R. Williams, Ph.D., M.P.H., told psychiatry resident grand rounds in May. “In some states there is a 13-year difference in life expectancy based on what county you live in.”
Subway lines and even specific train stations can be predictors of health in a society full of disparities based on factors that also include race, socioeconomic status, and education level, said Williams, the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at Harvard. The United States, he said, ranks at the bottom of industrialized nations in such health indicators as infant mortality. Improving health, he continued, means addressing issues beyond health.
“We need to invest in our schools, our sidewalks, school programs, produce markets, jobs—not traditional things to think about in terms of health, but these are the things that create opportunities for individuals to make healthy choices,” Williams said. “The health of America depends on the health of all Americans. Improving Americans’ health will not only improve the economy, it will improve the quality of life.”