Unnatural Causes: Place Matters

This documentary discussed the importance of place and environment on health. It related well to our discussions on racial housing segregation and what factors of a person’s environmental can affect their health. Where you work, go to school and live determines what you are exposed to. An example that blew me away was the 10+ teenage girls who had their gallbladders removed because of their high fat diets and exposure to fast food. Even at such a young age, these girls already suffered the serious health consequences of their environment.

I think a really important point in this segment of the film was that economic policy, neighborhood improvement efforts, policies on violence, and other social policy are all health policy. The things that need to change are not just health care policies. The doctor who treated Gwai, the immigrant from Laos, said that doctors treat people from disadvantaged areas who are very sick, and then send them right back to the same environment. This is not an effective way to treat patients. The change needs to economic, social and political to have an effect on environmental factors.

The change also needs to include input from those living in the disadvantaged communities. These communities need to be given power and a voice in determining what happens in their neighborhood. We talked briefly in class about the white savior complex and how white people will come in, do what they think needs to be done to “save” the community, and then leave thinking they fixed everything. In reality, those actually living in a particular area know much more about the area’s needs and problems. We see this same idea in “voluntourism” trips, where people travel to a foreign country to build houses in impoverished areas. However, this is likely not what the community really needs, and won’t solve their underlying problems, but rather benefits the voluntourist more than the community they served. If change is going to happen, those living in disadvantaged areas need a seat at the table.


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