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Series Objectives
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Photos and Materials about the Series

UNNATURAL CAUSES goes beyond popular conceptions linking health to medical care, lifestyles and genes to explore evidence of other more powerful determinants: the social conditions in which we are born, live and work.

Conceived as part of a larger impact campaign in association with leading public health, policy and community-based organizations, the series is a production of California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc.

Presented for public television by the National Minority Consortia. Impact campaign in association with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Health Policy Institute.


California Newsreel

Press Materials (PDFs)

UNNATURAL CAUSES: Changing the way Americans think about health (December 2009)

UNNATURAL CAUSES wins 2009 Award for Science Communication from the National Academies of Science (October 2009)

PBS to Rebroadcast Series in October 2009 (July 2009)

UNNATURAL CAUSES wins duPont-Columbia Award (Jan 2009)

Public Engagement Campaign Press Release (updated Jan 2009)

Media Coverage Summary (updated Jan 2009)

Reviews and Awards (updated Sept 2009)

Series Press Release

Creators Muse - An Interview with the Filmmakers

Meet the Experts

Meet the Producers

Amazing Facts

10 Things to Know about Health

Series Background - Summary, Objectives, and Themes

Episode Overviews
   In Sickness and In Wealth (Hour One)
   When the Bough Breaks & Becoming American (Hour Two)
   Bad Sugar & Place Matters (Hour Three)
   Collateral Damage & Not Just a Paycheck (Hour Four)

Press Photos

Dr. Troutman with local kids (jpg - 366KB) »

Dr. Adewale Troutman is director of Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness. In Episode One, he takes us on a tour of Louisville's neighborhoods and helps explain the health impacts of class, "race," and neighborhood. The new Center for Health Equity in Louisville is one example of a community-based approach to address the challenge of health inequities.
From "In Sickness and In Wealth" (Episode One)

Cory Anderson (jpg - 385KB) »

Corey is a hospital janitor with hypertension and little control over his work. He and his wife rent an apartment in a neighborhood plagued by violent crime. As for many people in America, his "high demand, low control" job is a source of chronic stress—putting him at higher risk for a wide variety of diseases.
From "In Sickness and In Wealth" (Episode One)


Children and health impacts (jpg - 885KB) »

Twenty-two percent of American children live in poverty. Repeated research has shown that early childhood poverty can have life-long health consequences. One study, undertaken at Carnegie Mellon, found that children whose parents owned their homes had stronger immune systems as adults. Other research suggests that stressful environments during childhood can chemically damage the brain—permanently affecting one's ability to learn and manage stress.
From "In Sickness and In Wealth" (Episode One)

Mother with premature baby (jpg - 170KB) »

A young mother with her new baby, who was born premature and now weighs two pounds.  African-American moms deliver pre-term, low-weight babies at twice the rate as white moms. The babies of recent West African immigrants have birthweights similar to white American women, suggesting that the source of the problem is social or environmental, not genetic.
From "When the Bough Breaks" (Episode Two)

Premature baby (jpg - 399KB) »

Babies born prematurely and underweight face a much higher risk of early mortality and lifetime health problems.
From "When the Bough Breaks" (Episode Two)

Amador Bernal (jpg - 125KB) »

Amador Bernal works in the mushroom farms of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. He makes $9.03 an hour and works seven days a week. Recent Mexican immigrants, though poor, have better health than the average American, but their health advantage erodes the longer they live here.
From "Becoming American" (Episode Three)

Commute traffic (jpg - 398KB) »

Americans now work more hours annually than even people in Japan, and are becoming increasingly isolated. As social ties fray, health declines as well.
From "Becoming American" (Episode Three)

Preparing insulin (jpg - 559KB) »

Half of the adult Pima Indians of southern Arizona suffer from Type II diabetes, one of the highest rates in the world. The increase began when the Pima lost their water rights and became dependent on the government commodity food program. Solutions are now being sought in a return to traditional foods and increased community control over food production.
From "Bad Sugar" (Episode Three)

Image credit: Terrol Dew Johnson

Pima farmer (jpg - 311KB) »

For a century, the water that the Pima Indians had relied upon for their crops was diverted to upstream uses, destroying the Pima economy and way of life. Now that they have won back their water rights and are beginning to farm again, they hope that regaining control over their destiny will also help them gain control over diabetes.
From "Bad Sugar" (Episode Three)

Image credit: photographer Mark Henle, copyright Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.

Gwai Boonkeut (jpg - 149KB) »

Age 49, Gwai Boonkeut is a refugee from Laos who moved to Richmond, California in 1980. He works as a school janitor, and recently suffered a major heart attack. He has no "traditional" risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking or family history. The neighborhood in which he lives—which suffers high rates of violence, environmental pollutants, and poor access to services and healthy food—may be his primary risk factor.
From "Place Matters" (Episode Five)

Neighborhood street (jpg - 397KB) »

Poor, segregated neighborhoods like this one in Richmond, California, are less likely to have parks and places for children to play safely than affluent neighborhoods, and they are much more likely to have hazardous waste facilities, landfills, and polluting industries sited there. Community action and progressive city planning can do much to address these issues.
From "Place Matters" (Episode Five)

Health worker on Ebeye (jpg - 134KB) »

A local health worker meets with TB patient as part of an effort to control the spread of the disease on Ebeye, an atoll in the Marshall Islands. A short ferry ride away lies Kwajalein, home to a U.S. military base that employs many Marshallese, where living conditions—and health—are equivalent to an affluent U.S. suburb. On Ebeye, the Marshallese confront the worst of both the "developing" and industrialized worlds; both chronic and infectious disease rates are high.
From "Collateral Damage" (Episode Six)

Springdale, Arkansas (jpg - 149KB) »

When Marshallese move to the U.S. seeking better lives, many settle in Springdale, Arkansas. While the quality of life is better for many, new stressors of traffic, climate, poor working conditions, and segregated neighborhoods create new risks to their health.
From "Collateral Damage" (Episode Six)

Closed factory (jpg - 410KB) »

When Electrolux moved refrigerator manufacturing from Greenville, Michigan, to Juarez, Mexico, in pursuit of lower costs, 3000 people lost their jobs.  Within a year, the number of people seen at the local hospital for depression, attempted suicide and domestic abuse tripled.
Three million U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last decade. While the net worth of middle and low-income families has fallen in the past 25 years, the wealth of the richest Americans has soared.
From "Not Just a Paycheck" (Episode Seven)

House for sale (jpg - 135KB) »

The loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs not only affects individuals but whole families and communities. Before they were laid off, Electrolux workers in Greenville led a middle class life: they owned homes, bought new cars and took regular vacations. Now many are barely scraping by.
From "Not Just a Paycheck" (Episode Seven)

Adelman and Smith, producers

Adelman and Smith (jpg - 580KB) »

Series Creator and Executive Producer Larry Ademan
Co-Executive Producer Llew Smith

Photo credit: Annette K. Beecham

Smith and Herbes Solmmers

Smith and Herbes-Sommers (gif - 44KB) »

Co-Executive Producer Llew Smith
Series Senior Producer Christine Herbes-Sommers

Larry Adelman

Larry Adelman (jpg - 1700 KB) »

Series Creator and Executive Producer Larry Adelman

Photo credit: Howard Gelman

Llew Smith

Llew Smith (jpg - 763KB) »

Co-Executive Producer Llew Smith

Photo credit: Annette K. Beecham

Additional Resources
Episode descriptions »

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Video clips »

National partners »

Inspiring stories »

Health Equity database (includes our Top 10 key resources) »