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The most important number for your health? It might be your zip code

You probably know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, or even your latest blood sugar readings. But the one number that may determine how long you live may not be any of those. It's your zip code.

Eighty percent of what contributes to our health is determined by behaviors, but these behaviors are shaped by our environment, argues Dr. Anthony Iton, M.D., J.D., MPH, Senior Vice President for Healthy Communities at The California Endowment.

your zip code says more about anything you're eating

Your zip code is a major determinate of your health.

Dr. Iton cites losing hope, persistent stress, and the chronic release of the fight-or-flight cortisol hormone as contributors to poor health. Dr Iton has said in interviews that your zip code is even more important than your genetic code.

How does our environment engender disease and predict our mortality? In Dr. Iton's TEDxSanFrancisco talk, he spoke about the progress from living in an environment that does not provide children with basic needs, to eventually opting destructive behaviors. A socially toxic environment provokes epigenetic changes, and the inflammation leading to diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Research shows that chronic inflammation also leads to higher rates of cancer.

Nowhere is this more evident than the financial burden of cancer care. The financial toxicity of cancer is overwhelming to patients, caregivers, and affected families. Your zip code determines the type of care you'll find in your neighborhood, access to care, and whether your income can afford good treatments and necessary medications. NOTE: At the end of this article, you'll find resources for meals for cancer patients in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles skyline

The Los Angeles skyline.

Where do we stand in Los Angeles? LA is among the top 5 cities in the U.S. for the highest life expectancy, at 84.7 years old. However, it depends where you live in Los Angeles. People who live in Watts have the lowest life expectancy—at 72.8 years—and not just the lowest in Los Angeles but in all of California. Living in Beverly Hills means you can expect to live to 86.6 years old, and 89.8 years in Malibu (Los Angeles County Department of Public Health).

And while the US spends more per person on health care than most countries in the world, we are ranked 28th in life expectancy, at 78.8 years old. Japan, Switzerland, and and Spain are the top three, in that order, and all spend much less than the US on healthcare. The numbers simply don't add up.

To address a community's health determinants, the root causes need to be addressed. The roots of a healthy community are grounded in the following:

  • Good air quality

  • Access to nutritious food

  • Well-funded schools

  • Safe parks and walkable streets

  • Nearby quality hospitals

  • Good jobs and income

  • No housing inequities

Building with no windows

Address the roots of a neighborhood's health.

Dr. Iton oversees the The California Endowment's decade-long, multimillion-dollar statewide commitment to advancing policies and forging partnerships to build healthy communities and a healthy California. The Endowment is making great strides in promoting a broader view of health, for example, focusing on preventative care, including screenings, regular check-ups, and vaccines.

Access to nutritious meals can be a challenge to both cancer patients and their caregivers. It's all the more difficult if there isn't a food market with a produce aisle nearby. As the Endowment notes, "So let’s reimagine our communities as places where people are surrounded with healthy options throughout the day..."

When I asked my students if these neighborhoods should have a new road built for easier access to a supermarket, one student replied, "No, we don't need another road. We need a supermarket around the corner." I hope city planners are listening.

Farmers market

Below, you can find resources for cancer patients and their caregivers in Los Angeles zip codes, for food and meal delivery. Some are free, while others are paid services.

Project Chicken Soup

Prepares and delivers free, nutritious kosher meals two Sundays each month to people living in Los Angeles with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses.

310-836-5402, email

Savor Health

Nationwide personalized meal delivery and one-on-one dietitian counseling.

888-721-1041, email

SOVA Community Food and Resource Program

Jewish Family Service { SOVA provides free groceries and an array of supportive services to over 9,000 individuals of all ages, ethnicities and religions each month at SOVA's two comprehensive service centers in the Los Angeles area. Main Office: 16439 Vanowen Street Van Nuys, CA 91406 818-988-7682

Meal Train

Online service to organize community meals.

Other meal planning resources. (Source: Triage Cancer)

The following are provided by Susan G. Komen LA County:

211 Los Angeles County Provides referrals in LA county for people seeking food resources.

P.O. Box 726 San Gabriel, CA 91778-0726 (800) 339-6993

Centro Shalom Distributes food and clothing, as donations allow.

2131 Long Beach Blvd. Ca, 90806 (562) 591-2214

Christian Food Center Provides frozen, canned and dehydrated food, cereals, bread, dairy products, fresh fruit, and vegetables to qualifying recipients.

1101 E. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90021 (213) 741-0213

Friends in Deed House Provides emergency food assistance, to families in Pasadena, Altadena, and other surrounding communities.

444 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91104 (626) 797-2402

Grace Resource Center Provides groceries and hot meals to those in need. Call for schedule.

45134 N. Sierra Highway, Lancaster, CA 93534

Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles: Home Delivered Meals Delivers frozen kosher meals to homebound Beverly-Fairfax, Metro Los Angeles, Pico-Robertson, West Los Angeles and West Hollywood residents. Congregate dining for those 60+, and their caregivers, is also available in the same areas.

330 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036 (877) 275-4537

Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness Publishes a directory of free/low cost food resources in LA County which gives practical information about how to get food, money and other help from government programs and community services. The coalition also organizes presentations and workshops on hunger and homelessness.

3300 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027 (213) 251-0041

Meals on Wheels: Culver City A non-profit, non-sectarian, volunteer, community based organization that serves the home bound in Culver City. Meals are delivered around noon Monday through Friday. Meals are delivered each week day except for holidays. Preparation, packaging and delivery of meals are done under the guidance of a nutritionist and are in compliance with all health department regulations. Special dietary needs are accommodated.

4427 Overland Avenue, Culver City, CA 90230 (310) 559-0666

Meals on Wheels: Santa Monica Serving people of all ages and all incomes. Meals are low-cost and individuals may qualify for subsidies. Program may also provide individuals with pet food for their pets. They offer both a short term and long term delivery program. Clients receive a healthy lunch, a light dinner, a daily newspaper, fresh produce and information about community programs.

1823-A Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 91724 (310) 394-5133

Meals on Wheels: Whittier Whittier Meals on Wheels is a non-profit, volunteer community service providing meals for shut-ins, elderly, or anyone unable to prepare meals for him/her self, delivered to their homes five days a week. Whittier Meals On Wheels is dedicated to nourishing and enriching the lives of the home-bound by delivering healthy meals and services that promote self-respect and independent living.

7702 Washington Avenue, Whittier, CA 90602 (562) 698-2750

Meals on Wheels: Pasadena Pasadena Meals on Wheels is a non-profit community service staffed by volunteers. They are dedicated to helping the disabled, aged, or ill by supplying them with delicious wholesome meals at a nominal cost.

54 North Oakland Ave. Pasadena, CA 91101 (626) 449-6815

Meals on Wheels: YWCA San Gabriel Valley The Home Delivered Meals Program provides healthy meals to homebound older persons. The meals can be hot lunches that are delivered each weekday, or can be frozen meals that are delivered in a package of seven once per week.

943 N. Grand Avenue, Covina, CA 91724 (626) 960-2995

Meals on Wheels: Long Beach MOWLB is a non-profit community service for persons unable to prepare adequate meals for themselves because of disability, age or chronic or temporary illness, thus assisting them to remain in their own homes. MOWLB provides home delivery of two nutritionally balanced meals per day at nominal cost and is available to all Long Beach and Signal Hill area residents, regardless of age.

P.O. Box 15688 Long Beach, CA 90815 (562) 439-5000

Project Angel Food With a completed and approved client application, Project Angel Food provides free, nutritious, and freshly prepared meals to nourish the bodies and spirits of people living with cancer and other serious illnesses.

922 Vine Street Los Angeles, CA 90038 (323) 845-1800

Salvation Army: Central Los Angeles Provides emergency food assistance, groceries and delivered meals for low income families, seniors and the disabled. Call for more information. There are several other locations, check online to find one near you.

906 South Francisco Street Los Angeles 9001 (213) 896-9178

Salvation Army: Korea Town Provides emergency food assistance, groceries and delivered meals for low income families, seniors and the disabled. Call for more information. There are several other locations, check online to find one near you.

933 S. Hoover Street Los Angeles 90006 (213) 480-0714

Salvation Army: East LA Temple Provides emergency food assistance, groceries and delivered meals for low income families, seniors and the disabled. Call for more information. There are several other locations, check online to find one near you.

140 N. Eastman Avenue Los Angeles 90063 (323) 263-7577

Watts Labor Community Action Committee: Access Center for Homeless Services Offers food assistance and social service referrals for homeless men, women, and children in South Central Los Angeles and surrounding areas.

10950 S. Central Ave. Watts, CA 90059 (323) 563-5639

Wilmington Senior Citizens Center Delivers meals to homebound seniors (60+) residing in Wilmington, San Pedro, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway and Gardena.

1371 N. Eubank Avenue, Wilmington, CA 90744 (310) 518-4533

apples at the farmer's market

Apples at the Farmers Market.

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