ZIP code better predictor of health than genetic code

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In St. Louis, Missouri, Delmar Boulevard marks a sharp dividing line between the poor, predominately African American neighborhood to the north and a more affluent, largely white neighborhood to the south. Education and health also follow the “Delmar Divide,” with residents to the north less likely to have a bachelor’s degree and more likely to have heart disease or cancer.

Pointing to Delmar as an example, Melody Goodman, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, recently spoke to a Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) audience about the links between segregation and poor health. Goodman, a HSPH alumna, gave the keynote address at the first annual symposium sponsored by the Department of Biostatistics Summer Program in Quantitative Sciences. The Biostatistics summer program for undergraduates — now in its 20th year — is a model for expanding the diversity at HSPH by increasing the number of students from underrepresented groups in computational biology and biostatistics graduate programs.

Goodman participated in the program in 2001, before going on to earn her Ph.D. in biostatistics from HSPH in 2006. At the July 24, 2014 event, which was held at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Goodman told the audience “Your ZIP code is a better predictor of your health than your genetic code.”