ZIP code trumps genetic code

Community health forum at Google hails Mountain View as exemplary

The message of a city- and county-sponsored event at Google this week was quite clear: where you live plays a larger role in your health than you might think.

The "Community Forum on Healthy Communities," organized by Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, packed a Google conference room with several hundred attendees Tuesday morning. The event was held at Google's Crittenden Lane campus to highlight some healthy features at Google, where employees ride colorful bikes between buildings and eat the healthiest of foods in on-site cafes. At the start of the event, attendees took a walk on the adjacent stretch of the Stevens Creek Trail, and later took breaks for stretches and quick aerobic exercises. Olympic soccer champion Brandi Chastain attended and spoke in support of public health programs.

City Council members Laura Macias, Tom Means, Mike Kasperzak, Margaret Abe-Koga and Jac Siegel attended, as did police Chief Scott Vermeer, the city's community development director, Randy Tsuda, and Kevin Woodhouse, assistant to the city manager.

If City Council members were unaware of their power when it comes to the health of the city's residents, it was made clear Tuesday by keynote speaker Dr. Anthony Iton, senior vice president of healthy communities for the California Endowment.

When Iton was Alameda County's public health officer, he and his staff began researching death certificates over a 45-year period and found "pockets of concentrated premature death" where people died 20 years earlier than average. Iton says many of the factors leading to premature death are under the control of local government policies: land-use planning that move schools out of walking distance from students' homes, a lack of access to parks and trails, streetscapes that discourage walking and bicycling, and neighborhoods that are like "food deserts" with poor access to grocery stores with healthy food. Other factors included access to good jobs.

When it comes to your health, "your ZIP code is more important than your genetic code," Iton said. "Give me your address and I'll tell you how long you will live."

Iton noted that healthier communities tend to be densely populated, in order to economically support the grocery stores and other services that would be located nearby. It is for this reason that rural areas, such as Fresno, have high rates of obesity, Iton said. Ironically, residents of these agricultural areas have less access to healthy fruits and vegetables, Iton said.

Mountain View was held up by Iton and Kniss as an example of a healthy community. But if that has been the goal all along, Mountain View officials have been quiet about it. Kasperzak said in Mountain View people often talk about making neighborhoods walkable and bikeable, but it's usually out of concern about the environment and reducing emissions from cars.

Kasperzak said local government officials are "just beginning to think about" their responsibilities for the public's health.

"This is not something officials have thought about as within their realm," said Kasperzak, who is considering making health issues a theme of his upcoming term as president of the California League of Cities.

With what Kasperzak called "a new awareness" about health impacts, the City Council may change its attitude towards fast food restaurants. The fast food chain Chick-fil-A has applied for permits to build a store where Sizzler now stands on El Camino Real near Rengstorff Avenue. In the future, Kasperzak said the councils might not permit fast food chains that don't serve a certain amount of healthy foods. But such policies seem "a few years away," he said.

Kniss, who has experience working as a nurse, said she believes the new focus on health is the result of rising health care costs, awareness of the country's obesity problem, and the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act, which provides grant funding to local governments. Kniss and state Assemblyman Paul Fong are raising awareness about the AHA in an effort to leverage grant funding to fuel what Kniss calls a "growing movement" for community health.


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Posted by Doh
a resident of Willowgate
on Sep 1, 2011 at 11:56 am

What? They're closing Sizzler? (hate when I find out things like this)

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Posted by Oh No
a resident of another community
on Sep 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

This is dangerous territory. The City Council can work to educate the public all they want regarding healthy living and eating. But they should not be pushing their own agenda's on our lifestyle by holding local businesses hostage with planning and land use procedures. If they want to deny Chick-fil-A because of the healthiness of their food, then draft a law and let the public vote on it. Right now they're just legislating from the bench and playing favorites based on their mood.

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Posted by Bruce Karney
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm

"Rural areas such as Fresno?" Last I looked it was a very large urban area. (Low density urban, like San Jose, not high density urban like S.F., or course.)

I believe wealth and whether or not one has had medical insurance are a much better indicator of longevity. If you're poor and don't have medical insurance moving from East Palo Alto to Mountain View is not going to help you much.

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Posted by HM
a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Then why is it that "the country's oldest person" usually turns out to be some old farmer from some out of the way hollow in Tennessee who lives on corn liquor and cigars and has never seen a hospital?
Come on. It's 95% in the genes. And money can help if the genes are lacking. But you're not going to pull someone who's obese and living in poverty and make them all good and well by moving them to Atherton.
Iton's a "Public Health official." Who's he gonna agree with anyway?
It's a VERY complex issue and you're fool to look at two or three criteria and come up with an answer.

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Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 1, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Quoting from the article: "Iton noted that healthier communities tend to be densely populated, in order to economically support the grocery stores and other services that would be located nearby."

In its planning for the new general plan, the community made two key points: they want walkable neighborhoods including downtown, and they want existing large residential neighborhoods composed mainly of single-family, resident-owned homes to be left alone.

Iton's point is valid, however. Walkable neighborhoods will have to be densely populated if they are "to economically support the grocery stores and other services" they want. The existing large residential neighborhoods are walkable only in the sense that it's pleasant to take a walk around the neighborhood, not in the sense of everyone being within walking distance of the stores.

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Posted by NeHi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 1, 2011 at 4:54 pm

It's good to see the diverse discussions this subject is bringing up; might even develop into a plan.

We moved to Mtn. View over 50 years ago and, if you don't count convenience or specialty stores, there were more food markets [not all supermarkets] than there now. And think of the poor Palo Altans who have to put up with convenience stores if they don't want to shop at Mollie Stone's or Whole Foods [I've not taken a survey]. My friends in Palo Alto shop in Mtn. View.

Come to think of it, we are here in the Cuesta Park area in walking distance of two large supermarkets and three "speciality stores. Not bad! Wonder how the rest of the city fares??

We are retired and rarely use fast food. And, we have the farmer's market! Maybe that is why we have been here 50 years. Lumber yards are a different subject.....

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Posted by andrea gemmet
Mountain View Voice Editor
on Sep 2, 2011 at 10:02 am

andrea gemmet is a registered user.

This comment has been moved from a duplicate thread, which has now been closed:

Posted by MV Resident, a resident of the Old Mountain View neighborhood, 18 hours ago

ZIP code correlates highly to income. And income correlates highly to health and life expectancy.

But correlation does not imply causation. ZIP codes that contain a lot of hospitals probably show a higher mortality rate. Was this caused by their ZIP code? Probably not.

Even the correlation between income and health is not necessary causal. Having more money may give you access to better health care. But it also may be a result of a more conscience person, who is more likely to take care of their health and not engage in activities that correlate to earlier death.

This whole notion that ZIP codes which have more walkable schools and trails causes better health is not very well based. Could it simply be that ZIP codes with more walkable schools and trails are higher income, and income correlates to health?

Regardless, people will write whatever sounds good and serves the purpose at hand.

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Posted by Ho Ho Ho
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 2, 2011 at 2:52 pm

@OhNo "If they want to deny Chick-fil-A because of the healthiness of their food, then draft a law and let the public vote on it. Right now they're just legislating from the bench and playing favorites based on their mood."

I think that you're confused about how a representative democracy/republic works. Unless you live in New England where pure democracies abound at the local level, you elect people who create laws. The people don't vote directly on the many proposed laws directly. If you like Chick-fil-A then elect people who like Chick-fil-A. If you don't then don't. If you don't like a law then elect new people who vote to repeal it.

Also, legistators don't legislate from the bench. By definition they are allowed to (and required to) legislate. Legislating from the bench is a term applied to the judiciary which the City Council is not.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of St. Francis Acres

on Sep 26, 2017 at 6:54 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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