Tina Zenzola is the Obesity Prevention Programs Director and the Interim Unit Director for the Chronic Disease and Health Equity Unit in the Public Health Services Division of HHSA. In these roles, she oversees state and federal grant-funded programs that apply a health equity lens in reducing chronic disease and obesity through policy, systems, and environmental change strategies.
Prior to joining the County, Tina served in a number of capacities. She founded Safe & Healthy Communities Consulting and served for over ten years as Executive Director. Safe & Healthy Communities Consulting was one of the first private organizations to help local, state, and national public health and planning agencies integrate public health goals into land use and transportation planning. She was Associate Director of the Center for Injury Prevention, Policy and Practice where she managed statewide and local-level violence and injury prevention programs and policy efforts. Tina was also fortunate to serve as the first Executive Director and a Board Member of Walk San Diego (now called Circulate San Diego), a San Diego non-profit organization that advocates for walkable and bikeable neighborhoods and land use that promote sustainable growth.
Tina holds a Masters of Public Health degree from the UCLA School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Arts degree in molecular/cellular biology from Humboldt State University in California.
When did you know that you wanted to work in this career field?
It was after I graduated from college, I was originally pursuing medicine and I got into medical school, but my interests shifted from direct care and treatment to the realm of public health. I was drawn to it because it works at the intersection of health and social justice. It was then that I decided to go to graduate school for public health.
How did you become involved in the COI?
Due to my role working with the County and because of our involvement in the COI. Internally, I was one of the project leads centered on active transportation so the Government Domain was a natural choice for me.
Why do you stay involved with the COI?
Well, because I think that it is one of the very few forums that bring together such a diverse group of partners that are very passionate and want to address the upstream factors. I think this is very important.
What do you love about of your job?
I love the ability to really focus on the social determinants of health and on the issue of equity. The other thing I love is that we’ve got an amazing and talented team of people working in our chronic disease and health equity unit at the County. Despite the challenges of working in a large institution, the team continues to be effective, cutting-edge, and develop nationally recognized programs. Working at this level and with such a creative team is what I love.
What are three words that describe you?
Adventurous, Strategic, Contemplative
What is your favorite place in San Diego?
What do you do for fun?
I love hiking and being out in nature with my partner, Nicola, and our dog Wally.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
It would probably be during the time that I worked for the Center for Injury Prevention, Policy and Practice and was able to get the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors to adopt a drowning prevention ordinance. This was a policy that required pool owners to install barriers between their house and pool. Ultimately, it has helped prevent drowning and saved hundreds of toddler’s lives. Not many people know this, but drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-5 years, and most of them drown in a backyard swimming pool. It’s a completely preventable death! The neat thing about this work wasn’t just the fact that we got the ordinance passed, but it was the cross sector allies that came together to work on it. It went beyond just the typical public health advocates, those pushing for the ordinance included a fire chief, a trauma surgeon, even a major developer in San Diego County speaking from the side of business. So it was really gratifying to have such a diverse group of people there fighting collectively for something that made so much sense and would make a difference. That win was fantastic!
What are your three greatest passions?
- Healthy and livable environments for people.
- Preservation of wilderness and wild places.
- Growing, cooking, and eating healthy food.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I was a whitewater river rafting guide throughout my college years; it helped me pay for school and was a great way to spend each summer! And yes…..I have actually flipped a boat in a rapid! Luckily, no one was hurt and we all learned some things about the power and unpredictability of whitewater.