The Skinny on Zip Codes: The Big Fat Link Between Zip Codes and Dress Size

With each additional $100,000 in the median price of homes, obesity rates in a particular zip code drop 2%.
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Did you hear about the research published recently in the journal Social Science and Medicine showing that neighborhood property values predict obesity rates better than education or income level? According to University of Washington researchers, each additional $100,000 in the median price of homes, obesity rates in a particular zip code drop 2%. Zip codes and house value info are, therefore, a useful gauge for figuring out how fat somebody is, even without laying eyes on them or their thick calves.

I don't like the idea. It's too much like having my secret cellulite patches exposed to some direct mail marketer and anyone else who cares to troll for information about house values and zip codes. I don't even open their junk mail, knowing they're trying to sell me something I don't want. Now I realize they know how much I weigh! Because of that, I'll do anything for them, like buy their carpet cleaning services, so they don't let anyone else know my shameful secrets.

This cutting edge research in zip codeology (apparently, academe's latest hot area) is bound to affect other aspects of life as we know it.

Take the job interview, where other social science research has proved that employers prefer to hire slim people and not the dress-sized challenged -- larger than life and/or heavier than average job candidate. This is nothing new and fat people's rights groups have been kvetching about it for a long time with some good cause. The world discriminates against fat people, though there must be some comfort in numbers, with such large percentages of Americans being overweight and/or obese.

I guarantee it. This new zip code research is only going to make fat discrimination easier than it is now. With this latest research as rationale, employers will now be screening job résumés of prospective employees, not only for attributes like education and relevant experience, but also for zip codes, to see if their job candidate is from a neighborhood that's prone to pudge. Why fly a good candidate in for the final interview, only to discover he or she is heftier than desirable for a company's image?

And image is what it's all about isn't it -- what we look like, not who we are? There's nothing new about that. The fact that the job seeker requested two seats on the plane when flying to the interview should have been the first clue that there was a size issue; now zip codes discretely give the heads up, before any more corporate human resource time is wasted on some big body they're not going to hire anyway.

The fact that student digs are often in the cruddiest part of town because of the financial situation of most students, after paying for their four year education plus grad school, will obviously go against them in the job race. The enterprising will use the address of a friend or friend's parent from an upscale neighborhood on their résumé in order to avoid zip code discrimination. If you must use the zip code from a fat neighborhood and your BMI qualifies you as average weight, do yourself a favor and send for your next job interview, a full length photo or your height and weight stats verified by your primary care physician.

This zip code info is going to mean big changes for the on-line dating scene, where so many of my friends carry on satisfying internet relationships for weeks and, sometimes, months before popping the bubble and meeting their pen pal or phone sex partner? My girlfriends and their alter ego male online partners won't be asking for the others' adulterated photo, taken before the pounds piled on, or the ubiquitous head and shoulder shot that can hide mountains of unwanted flab; instead, they'll be asking for their love interest's mailing address with zip code. The info is requested, not to write an old-fashioned love letter (nobody sends letters anymore, except my Great Aunt Marj in Canada) or to get a specimen for hand writing analysis, but in order to judge how big the prospective love match likely is.

In some ways the research is not that surprising and you and I likely could have guessed the results without getting support from the NIH, but neither you nor I are PhD students desperate for a thesis topic. I'm just Mary Mary quite contrary tending my garden. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess that the tonier a neighborhood; the slimmer its inhabitants might be. We all know this. Slim is in in the post-Rubens 21st century, if you want to make it to the top of the social ladder and a great bod goes along with the mammoth house in the swell hood. At a minimum, a svelte figure is a sign that you can afford a gym membership and have the time to use it, or know enough to eat more veggies than Pop Tarts.

The thing is there are exceptions to every generalization and that goes for theories about zip codes, property prices and human girth as well. I am slim. I used to be skinny but having a baby took care of that. I also pride myself living in a neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification which are, you guessed it, code words for the wrong side of the tracks. It's a low income area with affordable houses where lots of students and immigrant families and I can afford to live. I thought that made my neighborhood interesting and fun to live in. I've now learned that social scientists just consider us fat. I don't like being pigeon holed.

I decided to dabble in a bit of my own zip codeology and peered through the window blinds at the neighbors and others walking down my street. There were a few pudgy people plodding along (maybe trying to get fit) but there were also some skinny minnies bounding into cars and, I imagined, heading to the gym. I wasn't sure, if I could include wraith-like children in the midst of growth spurts in my calculations, so I ignored them. Although my Gladys Kravitz observations weren't scientific or ready for a peer reviewed journal, the average weight of those I spied that morning was probably within normal range, with a few extra love handles tipping the balance.

The experience made me feel closer to my neighbors. Together we were bucking the trend.

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