UNNATURAL CAUSES 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.
This is a story that implicates us all. We're spending $2 trillion a year and rising on healthcare, more than twice per person than the average industrialized nation. Yet American life expectancy ranks 29th in the world, behind Costa Rica. Infant mortality? Cypress, Slovenia and Malta do better. One third of Americans are obese. Chronic illness now costs American businesses more than $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. It turns out there's much more to our health than bad habits, healthcare or unlucky genes. The social conditions in which we are born, live and work profoundly affect our well-being and longevity.
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.