Lakeland Hospital hosts series on how discrimination impacts health

Published 10:02 am Tuesday, April 2, 2019

NILES — Lakeland Hospital will host a documentary screening that is part of a multi-faceted effort to address the impacts of racial discrimination and poverty on a person’s health.

The documentary called, “Unnatural Causes: When the Bough Breaks” will screen from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Niles District Library, 620 E. Main St. After the showing, Lakeland leaders will help to facilitate a discussion about the issue. The event is free and open to the public to attend.

The documentary was created by PBS and will analyze how socioeconomic status and racial inequities play a role in people’s health. One health problem the documentary will discuss is the number of African American mothers who experience infant mortality due to discrimination. 

The documentary is one in a number of community events that will continue through 2020 as part of the Community Grand Rounds: Healing the Trauma of Racism series, which kick-started in April 2018. The educational effort is a collaboration between Lakeland Health and the Todman Family Foundation.

Lynn Todman, the executive director of Population Health at Lakeland Hospital in St. Joseph, helped to initiate the series with the intent to bring awareness to the Berrien County community. The screening in Niles will mark the third showing of the film.

“The idea was to make sure that Niles was exposed to the same information as other parts of the county,” Todman said.

Todman said this particular documentary looks at structural racism and how discrimination causes stress that can initiate physiological damage to a person’s body. The problem is one Todman believes could be impacting the health of Berrien County people, too. 

According to Todman, 13 percent of African American babies are born with low birth weights, compared to only 6 percent of white babies born with low birth weights. This continuous data was collected from 2011 to 2017.

Additionally, she added that African Americans in Berrien County experience a higher rate of health issues, like diabetes, obesity, stroke and psychological distress, according to data provided by the Berrien County Health Department. While this can in part be attributed to a lack of access to basic resources, Todman also said scientific studies indicate that discrimination is another health factor.

The other part of the health series evaluates how stress from poverty can also incite physiological harm to the body.

In the months to come, Lakeland will host a variety of activities targeted at educating people about the topics. A full list of upcoming events is available on Lakeland’s website at

Todman encouraged people in the community to view the documentary and upcoming activities and join in the discussion.

“The reason why people should come is there is a social impact,” Todman said.