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Originally published March 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 23, 2008 at 12:34 AM


TV Lookout

Examining the link between health and wealth

Eat right, exercise, don't smoke, inherit good genes and, conventional wisdom dictates, you gain the best measure of protection against...

The Associated Press

Eat right, exercise, don't smoke, inherit good genes and, conventional wisdom dictates, you gain the best measure of protection against illness.

Not so fast, argues a new PBS series.

"Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?," airing on four consecutive Thursdays beginning this week, explores the idea that work, race, economic status and neighborhood conditions may affect a person's health as much or more than habits or genetics.

Looking at communities in California, Washington, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and other states, the series examines why America ranks as the world's wealthiest nation and yet is 30th in life expectancy and 31st in infant mortality.

Among the intriguing questions "Unnatural Causes" probes: Why do poor Mexican immigrants see their health erode the longer they stay in America? Why do poor smokers develop lung cancer more often than rich smokers? Why are some black and American Indian populations less likely to reach 65 than people from Bangladesh or Ghana?

Improved housing, higher wages and more control on the job foster health as much as quitting smoking or eating well, according to a Harvard University epidemiologist quoted in the series. In other words, the show argues, social policy may be crucial to a citizenry's physical well-being.

The first episode, airing at 7 and 10 p.m. Thursday on KCTS-HD (Channel 108) and titled "In Sickness and in Wealth," looks at the link between health and wealth through the lives of Louisville, Ky., residents including a CEO, lab supervisor, janitor and welfare mother.

The series' subsequent episodes continue the investigation in other cities and present what "Unnatural Causes" deems "innovative initiatives for health equity."

Other shows to look out for:

Those cheekbones, those eyebrows, those tales of wire hangers: Mention Joan Crawford, and it's easy to summon trademark images. But a new Turner Classic Movies documentary tells us there's much more to "Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star." Debuting 5 p.m. Sunday, the program tracks Crawford's nearly 100-film career. It also dissects her personal life, including friends, four marriages and four children. Filmmaker Peter Fitzgerald blends photographs, vintage newsreels and film clips with interviews with co-stars and others, including daughter Christina Crawford, director Vincent Sherman and columnist Liz Smith. Starting life in poverty as Lucille LeSueur, Crawford remade herself from dancer to contract player to Academy Award-winning actress. Anjelica Huston, another Oscar-winner, narrates the 90-minute film.

Here's a contest that should win Al Gore's approval: HGTV is building and giving away its first "green home." The sweepstakes for the South Carolina house will kick off in a special program. Located in a master-planned community near the Hilton Head beach resort, the furnished home is about 2,300 square feet, has three bedrooms and, most important, boasts certificates attesting to construction and design elements that contribute to a healthier living environment. The giveaway, which runs through May 15, is valued at about $850,000. Carter Oosterhouse of HGTV's "Carter Can" hosts the "HGTV Green Home Special" that airs at 9 tonight. The contest is not to be confused with HGTV's annual "Dream Home Giveaway," which, for those who may be less fussy about their carbon footprint, recently bestowed a $2.2 million Florida home on the winner.

Art as a healer is among the themes of "Autism: The Musical," which tells the story of five autistic children, their families and the woman who pushes the kids beyond expectations as they stage an original musical. The HBO film, debuting at 8 p.m. Tuesday, features Elaine Hall, an educator-writer-performer-acting coach who's also the mother of an autistic boy and founder of The Miracle Project, a Los Angeles-based theater program. With the goal of challenging perceptions of autism, Hall guides her charges through six months of work that culminate in the opening night and a celebration of their spirit and determination. Autism, a complex, poorly understood disorder, is characterized by repetitive behaviors and poor social interaction and communication skills — which, Hall demonstrates, can be addressed in creative ways.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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