Dr. Tony Iton on Why Your Zip Code is More Important Than Your Genetic Code in Predicting Long-Term Health | A Second Opinion Podcast

Dr. Tony Iton on Why Your Zip Code is More Important Than Your Genetic Code in Predicting Long-Term Health

Predicting Long-Term Health

For our August 10th episode, Senator Frist sits down with Dr. Anthony Iton, who clearly and precisely explains why your zip code – not your genetic code – is the single biggest predictor of long-term health.  When it comes to health, place matters, and where you live often indicates your economic status, access to healthy foods, safety, and access to quality education and greenspace.  And the lack of any of these factors causes stress – which Dr. Iton has found has tangible, measurable health impacts.

“If I had to use one word to describe why we have entrenched health disparities, racial health disparities, income health disparities, regional health disparities … I’d said I have the word for you, and that word is stress.  It’s chronic, unremitting stress.”  Dr. Iton explains in more detail, “If you’re constantly stressed out … that chronic secretion of cortisol actually almost has the exact opposite effect on your body.  That chronic stress causes hypertension, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease independent of your diet or whether you exercise.  The sad double-whammy is it also stimulates cravings for high fat, high salt, high sugar foods.  … You’re craving the food and you’re having direct physiologic changes on your cardiovascular system.”

Anthony Iton serves as Senior Vice President for Healthy Communities at The California Endowment, where he oversees the organization’s 10-year, multimillion-dollar statewide commitment to advance policies and forge partnerships to build a healthier California.  Dr. Iton – who holds a medical degree from Johns Hopkins and a law degree and a Master’s of Public Health from UC-Berkeley – previously led California’s Alameda County Public Health Department, worked as an HIV disability rights attorney, and as a physician and advocate for the homeless at the San Francisco Public Health Department

A Lecturer of Health Policy and Management at the UC-Berkeley School of Public Health, Dr. Iton’s research focuses on disadvantaged populations and the contributions of race, class, wealth, education, geography and employment to health status.  His research is particularly relevant as our nation considers why our minority populations are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and can inform the policy and community-level changes we need to achieve health equity.

Click here to listen to Dr. Iton explain how chronic stress plagues our low-income population due in part to the policies our nation has created, and the solutions we should pursue to improve health for all.