PBS series on health disparities featuring HSPH faculty and alumni wins broadcast journalism equivalent of Pulitzer Prize

For immediate release: Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Boston, MA — Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) faculty and alumni are featured in a PBS series on health disparities selected for an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for excellence in broadcast journalism. The duPont Awards are considered to be the most prestigious in broadcast journalism and the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prizes. Both the duPont Awards and the Pulitzer Prizes are administered by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The series, Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?, was broadcast by PBS in spring 2008 and was produced by California Newsreel with Vital Pictures. HSPH faculty served as advisors and as on-camera experts. See http://www.unnaturalcauses.org/  for video clips and background information.

The awards ceremony will take place tomorrow, Thursday, January 22, 2009, at Columbia University in New York City, NY. Katie Couric, CBS News Anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent, will host. NBC News co-anchor Hoda Kotb and Ira Glass of This American Life will join Couric.

The series explores why the United States — one of the richest countries in the world — ranks among the least healthy industrialized nations. The series makes the argument that eating right, staying active, and having “good genes” are only part of the prescription for a healthy life. Social policies that contribute to a good education, affordable housing, a clean environment, freedom from discrimination, and other factors also matter.

Unnatural Causes has the following episodes:

  • In Sickness and In Wealth
  • When the Bough Breaks
  • Becoming American
  • Bad Sugar
  • Place Matters
  • Collateral Damage
  • Not Just a Paycheck

The HSPH faculty and alumni who participated include David R. Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health; Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, Associate Professor of Society, Human Development, and Health; Jack P. Shonkoff, Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development; Jim Yong Kim, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of Health and Human Rights; Ichiro Kawachi, Professor of Social Epidemiology; Lisa Berkman, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology; Donald Warne, HSPH alumnus, MPH 02; and Nancy Krieger, Professor of Society, Human Development, and Health.

“The news of the duPont award demonstrates that the show is accepted as serious and important journalism that reveals how policy choices in the U.S. are reflected in our health,” said Krieger. “The topic of health disparities is an important one that needed to be communicated well by people who know how to tell a story.”

In addition to appearing in the series, Krieger viewed and commented on rough cuts of the filming and organized screenings of the series both at HSPH and at the American Public Health Association. She said that one reason she chose to be so involved was because the series’ producers had organized an educational campaign about health disparities to continue drawing attention to the subject long after the series aired.

In a press release, Larry Adelman, the series creator and executive producer and co-director of California Newsreel, said:  “We are thrilled by this honor. It reflects a growing recognition that meaningful jobs that pay a living wage, affordable housing, quality schools, racial justice, safe and supportive communities, even tax policy, are health issues every bit as important as diet, smoking and exercise.”

According to California Newsreel, more than 12,000 community dialogues, policy forums, trainings, town hall meetings, and other events related to the series have been convened around the country since it first aired.

Bob Woodruff of ABC News interviewed several of the duPont Award winners for a PBS special program called Telling the Truth: The Best in Broadcast Journalism. In Boston, the program will air again on January 28 on WGBH.

Read more about the award and learn about other winners.