For the next month, a special PBS-TV series will explore what it is about the American experience that's so deadly to the poor and minorities. It's called "Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?" The first show, 'In Sickness and in Wealth,' examines the hierarchy and health outcomes in a hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. Llewellyn Smith is co-executive producer of the series.

SMITH: "If you imagine a ladder, with the wealthiest individuals, or wealthiest families, at the top and the poorest families at the bottom, but also imagine that there are different people all along the rung of that ladder, where you live on that ladder is a powerful predictor of what your health is going to be and how long you're going to live. It's more powerful than the personal behavioral choices that you can identify, because the research even shows that, if you have two smokers, and one is an upper-class, wealthier smoker, and one is a poorer smoker, there's a greater chance that the poorer smoker is going to have diseases associated with cancer and so on than the wealthy smoker.

One of the reasons we wanted to do that in the hospital was to just to get people to sort of see the hospital, not as this source for health, but as just any other place. People work in the hospital, there's a hierarchy in the hospital, which tends to reflect the hierarchy in society. And you're right -- people at the top, the gentleman at the top who is the CEO is in much better health and has much better control over his life than people who are beneath him. And it's graded, as you said, so people who are in the middle are gonna have better opportunities than people who are the next step below them."

Hosted by Steve Curwood, "Living on Earth" is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More "Living on Earth.

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