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Is Inequality Making Us Sick?

Armen Hareyan's picture

Is inequality making us sick? That's the key question explored by a major new Public Broadcasting Service documentary, "Unnatural Causes." Scheduled to begin airing weekly on Wisconsin Public Television affiliates on March 30th, the four-part series examines the extent and causes of our socio-economic and racial inequities in health.

The timing is appropriate. Recently we have seen reports that describe inequities, or disparities, in rates of sexually transmitted disease among teens, cancer rates, and the burden of asthma.

Another key disparity is infant mortality. One of the documentary's segments, "When the Bough Breaks," examines disparities in infant mortality rates. It illustrates how African American women with college graduate degrees still face a greater risk of delivering premature, low birthweight babies than white women with less than a high school education. Premature and low birthweight babies are more likely to die within their first year after birth.

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Here in Wisconsin, the low birthweight and infant mortality rates among African American women and women of other ethnic groups confirm that we face a crisis.

How has it come to this state of affairs in one of the richest nations on earth? "Unnatural Causes" goes beyond the statistics to look at the underlying societal and institutional forces at work within our communities, our jobs, and our history. It seems there is more to our health than bad habits or genes. The social and physical environments in which we live, work and play have a profound effect on our health and longevity.

This series is a ground-breaking effort to broaden the debate over health beyond medical issues. It also offers a glimpse of some possible solutions by linking the need for better health to the need for social and economic justice.

At times, viewers will see disturbing and intensely personal stories, but they will also see stories of hope and possibilities. This comprehensive, unconventional picture makes "Unnatural Causes" well-worth watching.