"Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?" premiered on PBS last night, the first of four parts. It looks at the social determinants of health and explores how who we are can determine how long and how well we live is determined by forces beyond biology.
It also discusses the role of public policy in reducing inequality.
The session is off to a great start with a short preview of the first episode, which Patricia Thomas, the Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, screened last week in Athens, Ga.
A.H. Strelnick, Director, Institute for Community and Collaborative Health and Monetfiore Medical Center is talking about last Sunday's NYT article "Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation."
Strelnick says we've not been able to solve our cost problem for health care or improve the health that our socioeconomic status should give us.
We have to look to "deeper problems," and that means "looking under the surface for the true roots of our health problem."
Strelnick referenced “The Solid Facts” which looks at different sources of social determinants of health, including: The Social Gradient (deprivation, poverty, disadvantage, class, education, etc.), Stress—the embodiment of how you take your experience turns into biology, and social inclusion (discrimination, isolation).
The question from Strelnick that he asks of his residents: What’s been the most successful anti-poverty program ever created? The answer: Social Security, which allowed the poorest person category in America from an elderly widow to a child of color.
"We’ve reduced poverty for some groups, but not for others," Strelnick says.
Llewellyn Smith, co-executive producer of the documentary, and president, Vital Pictures, Inc., says the research itself is not new, but there has been a resurgence in interest in health disparities and the inequalities surrounding health and public policy.
"This is really the first time this is communicated and translated into stories that people can actually access," Smith says. "If you begin to map neighborhoods, you can see that there are some communities where people are going to live 10 years longer than others.
Those communities, Smith says, are the same places that have the good schools, green spaces, access to good foods.
"You can se e a clear visual pattern. Is that a natural pattern? Is that a fact of nature?" Smith says. "If it isn’t, that means we can do something about this."