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Jan 26

Your zip code and your health

Posted on January 26, 2019 at 12:46 PM by Katie Combs Prichard

It’s the time for resolutions: losing weight, going to the gym more, eating more veggies etcetera etcetera.

But as we turn our focus to health in the new year, it’s important to remember that there are many other factors that impact your health beyond individual lifestyle choices. There’s a phrase in the public health world: “social determinants of health.” This is the idea that our surrounding environment – everything from education opportunities to income to the walkability of our neighborhoods and public safety – has a big impact on our health and mortality, as do our social networks. Indeed, studies have shown that one’s zip code can be a better predictor of health than one’s genetic code.

This is as true here in Placer as it is everywhere, even though we live in one of the healthiest communities in California. If you visit our Be Well Placer Dashboard at, you can explore different trends, from income to disease, by zip code and notice that life in 96143 can hold more risk than life in 95746, for children and adults.

It’s these types of data that have led us to start looking at new approaches to solving health challenges, beyond the doctor’s office or hospital walls. For example, in Placer County our Whole Person Care program is helping many homeless people with severe medical needs. Getting them in stable housing – where they can focus on recovery – has been shown to be more cost effective than paying for repeat emergency room visits, so our program has made significant investment in actually purchasing housing. A health agency getting into the real estate market!

But as much as the science of these “social determinants of health” is impacting policy and decision-making, it’s also important to take stock of on a personal level. We can start by lifting up our own personal networks of family and friends: helping connect them with resources if they’re experiencing tough times, whether it be helping with transportation or getting a friend hooked up with counseling. Preventative efforts when someone starts to falter can help problems from becoming much worse, so don’t be afraid to start the conversation.

And we can all become more involved. New Year’s resolutions are often internally focused, but if we take a broader look at our community, we might think about goals that can help make our whole community healthier; looking for opportunities to make a difference in our schools, parks, and elsewhere in our neighborhoods.

Health, after all, starts at home.

Be Well,

Dr. Rob, Robert Oldham, is Placer County’s public health officer and lives in Roseville. Contact his office at (530-889-7141.