Unnatural Causes

Unnatural Causes is a documentary series that explores the effects of social factors on health and health care in the United States. It focuses specifically on race, socioeconomic standing, geography, and gender in its examination of well-being and longevity among Americans, attempting to answer the question, "Is inequality making us sick?". The Unnatural Causes series includes seven short documentaries (one each week) followed by instructor-led discussion and application of concepts among participants.

Events Calendar

Unnatural Causes

What connections exist between healthy bodies, healthy bank accounts, and skin color? Follow four individuals from different walks of life to see how their position in society – shaped by social policies and public priorities – affects their health.



African American infant mortality rates remain twice as high as for white Americans. African American mothers with college degrees or higher face the same risk of having low birth-weight babies as white women who haven’t finished high school. How might the chronic stress of racism over the life course become embedded in our bodies and increase risks?


Recent Mexican immigrants tend to be healthier than the average American. But those health advantages erode the longer they’re here. What causes health to worsen as immigrants become acculturated to life in America? What can we all learn about improved well-being from new immigrant communities?


O’odham Indians, living on reservations in southern Arizona, have perhaps the highest rates of Type 2 diabetes in the world. Some researchers see this as the literal ‘embodiment’ of decades of poverty, oppression, and loss. A new approach suggests that communities may regain control over their health if they can regain control over their futures.


Increasingly, recent Southeast Asian immigrants, along with Latinos, are moving into long-neglected African American urban neighborhoods, and now 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?


In the Marshall Islands, local populations have been displaced from their traditional way of life by the American military presence and globalization. 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.


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 and retrain workers.


Please note: episodes do not necessarily go in order of event dates/times. 

For more information, contact Melissa Selby-Theut at (616) 331-3266.