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Can Your Zip Code Determine How Long You Live?

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Health disparities and lack of healthy equality greatly impact the health and well-being of a community. The California Endowment, a private health foundation, recognizes the importance of closing the health disparities gap, fights to expand access to health care for underserved communities and focuses on improving the health of Californians. The California Endowment is taking the action to improve the health of Californians, and in 2010 launched a plan titled “Building Healthy Communities” that works to improve communities and encourage the ideology that prevention is priority. Part of this initiative includes the “Health Happens Here” initiative, which focuses on improving communities’ ability to combat health disparities. Health Happens Here focuses on improving three main areas: schools, neighborhoods and prevention skills. Improving these three areas are critical to the overall health of a community. The California Museum, in partnership with The California Endowment and other organizations, worked to facilitate their own Health Happens Here exhibit. This exhibit was inspired by the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistical report and the Measure of America’s Human Development research that revealed that income, education level and health had a great impact on the life expectancy rates in certain communities.

The exhibit’s grand opening was Oct. 16, 2012, and the exhibit is composed of an interactive journey that allows visitors to learn about factors that can affect the health of communities in California. There are seven games and two interactive stations that allow visitors to explore these factors. Simultaneously, visitors also earn points for each station completed. At the conclusion of each session, points earned can be donated as money for charities in California. The sessions consist of factors such as selecting healthy foods in a grocery store, to selecting health-support options for young people, to entering zip codes to see the life expectancy rate of that particular zip code, while also taking the participant’s picture.

I visited the exhibit Oct. 20, 2012, and received a personal tour with the communication and marketing director, Brenna Hamilton. Hamilton had me participate in the sessions while she explained the background information on the exhibit. The activity that I enjoyed the most was “Heads Up,” in which I had to explore factors that added to or subtracted from a community. I stood in a motion-censored area and grabbed and collected items that were displayed. These items either added to or subtracted from the value of a community. The activity was very exciting and interactive, and it provided me with a new perspective of factors that can affect a community. Hamilton also showed me another interactive activity that revealed the negative effects of soda. This activity was set up like a soda vending machine. When I made my selection, information would be dispensed about the dangers of soda. Hamilton also showed me video clips on a “Soda Sucks” campaign, in which young people design YouTube video clips to inform others on the negative impact soda has on their health. I was very impressed with all the interactive activities, and they seemed to effectively convey the message of improving health in a community.

The California Endowment and The California Museum are doing great work with this exhibit. They are in the process of reaching out to various communities throughout California that are strongly impacted by health disparities. The exhibit is ongoing, and Dec. 1, 2012, offers visitors the chance to see the exhibit free of charge. I strongly recommend that all communities take part in this experience.


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