NASW Partners on Health Disparities Series

— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff


NASW is partnering with PBS on a new documentary series that explores "the mystery of what's stalking and killing us before our time, especially those of us who are less affluent and darker skinned."

The series, Unnatural Causes, launched in late March and continues airing through April. It includes four programs that explore how work, wealth, neighborhood conditions and lack of access to power and resources affect health.

NASW joined as a campaign partner to promote the series and provide information and assistance related to eliminating health disparities. NASW has also been working with chapters to promote the series locally.

The series and materials were produced by California Newsreel, a nonprofit, social-issue documentary film center, and were developed with the Health Policy Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the American Public Health Association, The Praxis Project and other organizations.

"The social work profession almost by definition is concerned about health disparities and the ways that people's environments and resources impact their lives," said Luisa Lopez, acting director of NASW's Division for Practice, Human Rights and International Affairs. "We hope members will not only watch this series themselves, but will also use this resource as a tool to promote the goals of eliminating disparities and supporting culturally competent practice."

According to press materials, the series "not only sounds the alarm about America's devastating socioeconomic and race-based inequities in health — it seeks out root causes. [The series] will help viewers understand how inequalities in the rest of our lives — i.e., income, housing, jobs, status and education — combine with a lack of power over the forces that impinge upon our lives and trigger chronic stress, can get under our skin and affect our risk for chronic diseases like stroke, heart disease, asthma, hypertension, diabetes, even cancer."

The series includes segments on why African American infant mortality rates remain more than twice as high as for white Americans; whether the high rates of Type 2 diabetes among the O'odham Indians is due to genes or part of the body's response to decades of poverty, oppression and historical trauma; and reasons the closing of a factory in western Michigan had very different effects in a working-class community than in a similar closing in Sweden.