March 25, 2008

Health, race and economy: “Americans live shorter and sicker lives.”

That memorable line was among the first that an audience of nearly 500 heard after the lights dimmed at the Kentucky Center for the Arts last Thursday, during a preview of the Louisville-based episode of a Public Broadcasting Service documentary series, “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?”Hosted by the Metro Public Health & Wellness Department, last week’s town hall meeting was intended to jumpstart what health officials hope will be a citywide effort to reframe health issues among citizens, community leaders and businesses by connecting the dots of zip codes and pocketbooks to wellness and life expectancy.“Health is a basic human right,” Dr. Adewale Troutman, director of the Health Department, told LEO. “And if not applied, it becomes an issue of justice.”According to the Health Department’s 2007 Health Status Assessment Report, Louisville’s health disparities are especially disturbing along lines of race. Here in Possibility City, the infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births is more than double for African-Americans what it is for whites. Statistics concerning lung cancer, stroke, stress and heart disease are similar.Thursday’s gathering was also an opportunity to showcase a snippet of the series opener, “In Sickness and in Wealth,” which debuts on KET this Thursday at 10 p.m. Produced by California Newsreel, a non-profit documentary film center founded in 1968, the episode features four Louisvillians from different socioeconomic backgrounds that run parallel to the life expectancy rates of their Metro Council districts. One of the episode’s characters, Tondra Young, a technical coordinator at University of Louisville hospital laboratory, said the yearlong filming was worth the final product. Asked what health issues affect middle-class Louisvillians, Young replied: “Work. Work can be stressful.”“We wanted to get access to a community that was diverse and reflected a lot of the different challenges that many other cities have,” said Lou Smith, co-executive producer of “Unnatural Causes.” Smith told LEO that the project connected to Louisville through Troutman, who the film’s producers met through the National Association of City & County Health Officials.