GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – Have you ever thought about how your zip code can affect the cells in your body? Or the impact your neighborhood might have on your chances of getting chronic illnesses like heart disease or diabetes? After looking at recent census data, some doctors have found that where you live can have a serious effect on your health.
“Even from Madison, 45 minutes from Madison, the care that people get is very different,” Dr. Patricia Tellez-Giron, a family medicine physician and the Latino Health Council chair at UW Health, said. “It’s amazing how in the United States, sometimes the rural areas have the kind of care that is suboptimal, almost like in developing countries.”
The 2020 Census released statistics last week that showed about a 4% increase in Wisconsin’s population. When it comes to different counties, Brown County had the second largest population growth over the 10 year period. Yet, doctors and researchers are interpreting these statistics in terms of environmental stressors like food insecurity or job opportunities for their patients on a molecular level.
“Your genes aren’t really related to your socioeconomic status, just how they’re expressed are,” Susan Grayson, an RN/BSN at the University of Pittsburgh and researcher and who has investigated the relationship between health inequities and their cellular ramifications, shared. “There’s this idea that your genes are what your genes are and they don’t change depending on what you’re exposed to in your life. But, every cell in your body has the same gene and obviously they’re not doing the same thing. That’s because of what they’re exposed to.”
Race also plays a pivotal role in someone’s health projections. Dr. Michelle Minikel, a family medicine physician with Bellin Health, shared that historically African Americans had about a three year shorter life expectancy on average than white people.
The pandemic now adding another layer to this conversation.
“With the census data, what we were able to see was the change in that life expectancy because of the COVID pandemic. For people of color, that life expectancy dropped about two and a half years on average,” Dr. Minikel highlighted.
Before life even begins, living in a food scarce environment, has led some pregnant women to activate a gene in their fetus that makes them prone to obesity, according to Dr. Minikel. More research is being done across the country on the relationship between geography and genetics.
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