The Social Determinants of Health – DNA vs ZNA

For the first time in our history, the United States is raising a generation of children who may live sicker and shorter lives than their parents. Reversing this trend will of course depend on healthy decisions by each of us. But not everyone in America has the same opportunities to make healthy choices.As I was driving through the city today, doing what I do, I happen to turn down East Princess Street. As I drove I noticed a cloud of dust rising as other cars were going past. As I look further I noticed that one side of the street appeared to be a different color than the other side. As I investigated even closer, I realized the dirt and dust that covered the street was a pollutant coming from the Junkyard that is located in the 500 block of East Princess Street. The dust not only covered the street but the sidewalks, the cars and any plants that are able to survive.  Now this junkyard has been located here for as long as I can remember, well over 50 years, but it has always been a sore spot for me. As I became more politically aware I always thought that there has to be some major polluting going on there with the chemicals coming from the collected junk seeping into the ground in that area.Upon reading many articles and scientific journals about health and life expectancy as it relates to where you live, I became even more sensitized to these major violations of our community health. Many of these articles conclude that an essential key to your health may be related to your zip code, actually saying that your zip code or where you live might be as important to your health as your Genetic Code…..A recent population-based analysis of life expectancy across United States, funded by the Robert Johnson Foundation (RWJF), found that geographic disparities in life expectancy in our nation are large and growing, and can be explained in large part by differences in race/ethnicity and socioeconomic factors such as income, education, and employment status.If DNA represents our biological blueprint, ZNA (zip code at birth) is the blueprint for our behavioral & psycho-social makeup and is just as powerful a determinant of our life expectancy as our DNA.Our ZIP codes can determine everything from our access to healthy food, to the safety of our neighborhoods, to the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink—factors which have a huge influence on whether we get sick in the first place.

To further illustrate how where we live can affect our health, RWJF has supported the development of maps which show how babies born just a few miles apart often have dramatic differences in life expectancy.

A little while back I posted some photos of major smoke pollution pouring from the smoke stack at the Crematorium over on Kings Mill Road. Another Health Hazard placed right in the middle of our community without regards to the environmental and human damage it is causing. In addition to that, just in the recent past a huge cell phone tower was placed right in the vicinity of where our children have to travel back and forth to McKinley school, again without regard for the overall safety and Health of our community, or our kids.

Politicians and others in authority will argue that these pollutants are no threat to us, our community or our children, but again I will bet you a dollar to a dime that these entities would not ever be allowed to be placed in a more affluent locale.Now I submit to you that these violations of the sanctity of our community would not and could not happen in any of our more affluent communities. This is exactly the conclusions reached by many of the studies on Zip Codes and Health. Besides the detrimental effects these toxic entities have on our health, they serve a s major drivers in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare for those who are lest able to afford it. Not in my Backyard is a powerful refrain if you have the clout to back it up.


Author: jkirk

Founder and Chief Researcher for the York African American Historical Preservation Society