Health Department to show documentary "Unnatural Causes"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 | 9:15 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA - The Columbia/Boone County Health Department will hold a four-part documentary screening starting Wednesday. "Unnatural inequality making us sick?"

It will be screened over four sessions at 6 p.m. Wednesdays in the Health Department building.

The series, produced by California Newsreel, investigates whether socioeconomic and racial inequalities, more than medical care, genes or behavior, affect the health of Americans.

The seven segments of the series deal with employment, wealth and neighborhoods.

"The screening is part of the effort taking place across the country to change how we talk about health," said Nanette Ward, study circles coordinator and human rights educator for the Columbia Human Rights Commission.

According to Larry Adelman, executive producer of the series, what jobs people have, which neighborhoods people live in or which schools children attend may all affect health.

"The series is shot across the country, from very small to large communities, like one in Michigan, which is affected by the moving of manufacturing jobs overseas," Adelman said. "Health is more than diet and exercise; it is about social conditions."

The Health Department hopes the screening will affect and inform the community's conversation about health.

"Here in Columbia, we hope to help people see the deeper level of issues that affect the health, that are bigger than just access to health care," Ward said.

"The documentary, which came out this year, shows how racial inequalities and social and public policies are affecting the overall health of Americans. The different life experiences (in the documentary) will also help people realize the reasons affecting health that they usually do not realize."

The current pay-as-you-go health care system itself helps further socioeconomic and racial inequalities, said Robin Acree, executive director of Grass Roots Organizing. People do not get access to proper health care because of these inequalities in the first place, she said.

"When I had kids, I couldn't afford to go to a hospital because I didn't have any insurance and couldn't afford it," Acree said. "I looked for home remedies for my children."

The solutions, according to a city government handout, lie not in more pills but in more equitable social policies.

"We hope to make the people aware of the challenges that determine their health and are out of our control like income, neighborhood, job status, race, and to see the importance in changing the conversation," Ward said. "We hope the people will come out of the screening and talk to their policymakers, legislators and community leaders."

Adelman said the screening is an example of the recognition that the series, as well as the issue it explores, has achieved.

"The screening of the document by Columbia city's Health Department is wonderful," Adelman said. "Health and health care are different. Health care is the repair shop that we go to when the body breaks down. We are looking at what is causing the breakdown and why."

He hoped the series will help frame the debate about health in America.

The screening is free for the public and will be held in the Health Department at 1005 W. Worley St. The first screening will be two hours and 45 minutes long.


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