MORE THAN A DECADE AGO, an international team of scientists from around the world completed one of the most ambitious undertakings in biomedicine — the sequencing of the human genome. The Human Genome Project ushered in an era of discovery on the role of genes in health and disease.
But when it comes to living a long and healthy life, genetic code is less important than ZIP code. For children born in New Orleans, life expectancy can vary by as much as 25 years between neighborhoods only a few miles apart. In one Boston Census tract the average life expectancy is 59, similar to what it was for Americans born nearly a century ago. A mere 10 miles separates a South Los Angeles community from a community in West Los Angeles where residents live, on average, a decade longer.
The full picture of health is determined not in the vacuum of individual genetic codes but in the social and physical environments where we live, learn, work, and play. And while the genetic code is determined at birth, the impact of ZIP code is not. The articles that follow illustrate the Fielding School’s commitment to working toward a society in which all people have the opportunity to lead healthy and productive lives.