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Unnatural Causes
Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?
A four-hour series that sounds the alarm about glaring socio-economic and racial inequities in health and searches for their causes...
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Unnatural Causes

Is Inequality Making Us Sick?

Series Premiered Thursday, March 27 at 10:00 p.m. on CPTV

The U.S. already spends twice per person on health care than any other industrialized nation. Yet our life expectancy ranks 30th; Costa Ricans live longer. Infant mortality? We’re tied with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia for next to last among industrialized nations. Illnesses cost American business more than a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity.
Further, research has revealed a gradient to health. At each step down the socio-economic ladder — from the rich to the middle class to the poor — people tend to be sicker and die sooner.

It’s no surprise that poor Americans die eight years before the rich on average, but middle-class Americans die almost three years sooner than the rich.

Unnatural Causes looks at what’s making us sick in the first place, investigating startling new findings that suggest there is much more to poor health than bad habits, inadequate health care or unlucky genes. The series circles in on a slow killer in plain view: the social circumstances in which we are born, live and work that can affect our risk for disease as surely as germs and viruses.

Taking it home to Connecticut, listen to WNPR's Where We Live interview with producer Llew Smith. He addressed solutions for local health departments and individuals.

Then, Health Director Baker Salsbury examines how Connecticut researchers are measuring this same problem in our neighborhoods. The data is broken down to a block by block assessment of health outcomes. One of the premises of the project: That health disparities are immoral and should be corrected.

Child living in povertyChild living in povertyEpisode 1 In Sickness and in Wealth

Aired Thursday, March 27 at 10:00 p.m. on CPTV

This is a story about health, but it’s not about doctors or drugs. Set mostly in Louisville, Kentucky, it’s a detective story out to solve the mystery of what’s stalking and killing so many Americans before their time. The program uncovers the connections between healthy bodies and healthy bank accounts — and why residents of so many other nations, including many poorer countries, live longer and healthier lives. Solutions, evidence suggests, may lie not in more pills but in more equality.

Premature babyPremature babyEpisode 2 When the Bough Breaks/Becoming American

Aired Thursday, April 3, at 10:00 p.m. on CPTV

When the Bough Breaks – African-American infant mortality rates remain twice as high as white Americans. In fact, African-American mothers with graduate degrees face a greater risk of having pre-term, low birth-weight babies than white mothers who haven’t finished high school. Investigators are circling in on how the chronic stress of racism throughout a life can become a risk factor embedded in the body.Becoming American – Recent Mexican immigrants, on the other hand, though poorer, tend to be healthier than the average American. But the longer they’re here, the worse their relative health becomes. This is known as the “Hispanic Paradox.” Is there something about life in America that is harming their health? Conversely, what is protective about new immigrant communities that we can learn from?

Amador Bernal works in the mushroom farms of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.Amador Bernal works in the mushroom farms of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.Episode 3 Bad Sugar/Place Matters

Aired Thursday, April 10, at 10:00 p.m. on CPTV

Bad Sugar – "Bad Sugar" travels to the O’odham Indian reservations of southern Arizona where residents are marked not just by poverty but with the dubious distinction of perhaps the highest rates of Type 2 diabetes in the world. While public attention has been focused on risky behaviors and genes, evidence increasingly points to a link between chronic disease and “futurelessness.” The program also looks at a new approach to health — one rooted in communities regaining control over their destiny.Place Matters – In many poor inner cities like Richmond, California, recent Southeast Asian immigrants and Latinos are moving into what have been neglected black urban neighborhoods — and now their health is being eroded, too. What policies and investment decisions create neighborhood environments that harm — or benefit — the health of residents? And what actions can make a difference?

Producers Larry Ademan and Llew SmithProducers Larry Ademan and Llew SmithEpisode 4 Collateral Damage/Not Just a Paycheck

Aired Thursday, April 17 at 10:00 p.m. on CPTV

Collateral Damage – Mainlanders view the Pacific Islands as a paradise. But diabetes, cardiovascular and kidney diseases and tuberculosis are taking a toll on the Pacific Islander population. In the Marshall Islands and in the unlikely spot of Springdale, Arkansas, this program shows how globalization is affecting health — often in unanticipated ways.Not Just a Paycheck – How does job insecurity and unemployment affect health? In rural western Michigan, residents struggle against depression, domestic violence, heart disease and diabetes when the largest refrigerator factory in the country shuts down. Ironically, the plant is owned by a Swedish company. In Sweden, shutdowns are relatively benign events and, for some people, even create opportunities thanks to Swedish government policies.