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HNSC 4152 Program Planning and Community Health Education: Health Disparities and Other Basic Issues

Readings: Health Disparities and Other Basic Issues

Chapter 2

Fertman, C., Allensworth, Diane DeMuth, & MyiLibrary. (2017). Health promotion programs from theory to practice (2nd ed.).

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Unnatural Causes: Description of series

UNNATURAL CAUSES, a seven part series, sounds the alarm about the extent of our glaring socio-economic and racial inequities in health and searches for their root causes. But those causes are not what we might expect. While we pour more and more money into drugs, dietary supplements and new medical technologies, UNNATURAL CAUSES crisscrosses the country investigating the findings that are shaking up conventional understanding of what really makes us healthy or sick.

UNNATURAL CAUSES is a medical detective story out to solve the mystery of what's stalking and killing us before our time, especially those of us who are less affluent and darker-skinned. But its investigators keep peeling back the onion, broadening their inquiry beyond the immediate, physical causes of death to the deeper, underlying causes that lurk in our neighborhoods, our jobs and even back in history.

The perpetrators, of course, aren't individuals but rather societal and institutional forces. And theirs are not impulsive crimes of passion. These are slow deaths the result of a lifetime of grinding wear and tear, thwarted ambition, segregation and neglect. But this is also a story of hope and possibility, of communities organizing to gain control over their destinies and their health.

The good news is that if bad health comes from policy decisions that we as a society have made, then we can make other decisions. Some countries already have, and they are living longer, fuller lives as a result.

Series Citation: Kanopy (Firm). (2014). Unnatural causes series. Retrieved from

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You can view online or printout a pdf transcript of each episode in either English or Spanish, no login required.

Questions to ask yourself as you watch these videos

  1. What is the life expectancy difference between the top half of the earning and the bottom half?
  2. What determines health in our society? 
  3. Is the level of wealth determining the level of health, in our society?
    1. If so, is it justified in our “civil” society?

Episode 1: In Sickness and In Wealth

EPISODE ONE, 56 MINS (SERIES OPENER). What are the connections between healthy bodies, healthy bank accounts and skin color? Our opening episode travels to Louisville, Kentucky, not to explore whether medical care cures us, but to see why we get sick in the first place, and why patterns of health and illness reflect underlying patterns of class and racial inequities.

Citation: California Newsreel (Firm). (2014). Unnatural causes: Episode 1.

Episode 2: When the Bough Breaks

EPISODE TWO, 29 MINS The number of infants who die before their first birthday is much higher in the U.S. than in other countries. And, for African Americans, the rate is nearly twice as high than it is for white Americans. Even well-educated Black women have birth outcomes worse than white women who haven't finished high school. Why is this the case? How might the chronic stress of racism over the life course become embedded in our bodies and increase risks? WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS explores this topic.

Citation: Anderson, K., Collins, J., David, R., Lu, M., Jones, C., Jackson, F., Phillips, M., ... California Newsreel (Firm). (2014). Unnatural causes: Episode 2.

Episode 3: Becoming American

EPISODE THREE, 29 MINS. Recent Mexican immigrants, although poorer, tend to be healthier than the average American. They have lower rates of death, heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses, despite being less educated, earning less and having the stress of adapting to a new country and a new language. In research circles, this is the Latino paradox.

But as they are here longer, their health advantage erodes. After five years or more in the U.S., they are 1.5 times more likely to have high blood pressure - and be obese - than when they arrived. Within one generation, their health is as poor as other Americans of similar income status.

Citation: Bernal, A., Iton, T., Vega, W., & California Newsreel (Firm). (2014). Unnatural causes: Episode 3.

Episode 4: Bad Sugar

EPISODE FOUR, 29 MINS The Pima and Tohono O'odham Indians of southern Arizona have arguably the highest diabetes rates in the world - half of all adults are afflicted. But a century ago, diabetes was virtually unknown here. Researchers have poked and prodded the Pima for decades in search of a biological - or more recently, genetic - explanation for their high rates of disease. Meanwhile, medical-only interventions have failed to stem the rising tide not just among Native Americans, but globally. What happened to the health of the Pima? BAD SUGAR explores this topic.

Citation: Warne, D., & Lewis, R. (2014). Unnatural causes. Episode 4.

Episode 5: Place Matters

EPISODE 5, 29 MINS Increasingly, recent Southeast Asian immigrants, along with Latinos, are moving into neglected urban neighborhoods, and their health is being eroded as a result. What policies and investment decisions create living environments that harm-or enhance-the health of residents? What actions can make a difference?

Citation: Boonkeut, G., & Williams, D. (2014). Unnatural causes. Episode 5.

Episode 6: Collateral Damage

EPISODE SIX, 29 MINS.  In the Marshall Islands, local populations have been displaced from a traditional way of life by globalization and the American military presence. Now they must contend with the worst of the "developing" and industrialized worlds: infectious diseases such as tuberculosis due to crowded living conditions and extreme poverty and chronic disease stemming from the stress of dislocation and loss.

Citation:  California Newsreel (Firm). (2014). Unnatural causes: Episode 6.

Episode 7: Not Just a Paycheck

EPISODE SEVEN, 29 MINS Residents of western Michigan struggle against depression, domestic violence and higher rates of heart disease and diabetes after the largest refrigerator factory in the country shuts down. Ironically, the plant is owned by a company in Sweden, where mass layoffs - far from devastating lives - are relatively benign, because of government policies that protect workers and their communities.

Citation: Price, R., & California Newsreel (Firm). (2014). Unnatural causes. Episode 7.

Additional Info: Health Disparities Income Inequality