best health documentaries 2020

5 Public Health Documentaries Students Don’t Want to Miss

In 2020, we’re currently facing an array of nationwide public health epidemics: drug overdose, obesity, food safety, heart disease, mental illness, pollution, and chronic stress are just a few. It is the job of public health professionals – such as health educators, community health workers, and epidemiologists — to research these matters and develop strategies for improving the health of our nation.

If you are interested in topics such as nutrition, mental health, or chronic disease—and interested in finding solutions—a career in public health might be for you. If you are interested in learning more about these subjects to start, these five public health documentaries may also be for you.

Goodwin University has rounded up some of the most distinguished, discussed, and debated public health documentaries of our time. To get a feel for America’s current state of public health, or to get inspired in your career, just turn on the TV and settle in.

1.    Heal (2017)

Directed by Kelly Noonan Gores, Heal is a profound documentary that explores the human ability to heal. It follows three chronically ill patients who are on a healing journey, after being diagnosed with high-stake conditions like stage 4 cancer. The film also connects with several leading scientists, physicians, and spiritual teachers who share their perspectives on the healing process – with one consistent message: Every organ in the human body has the ability to heal itself.

Today, Americans are chronically stressed. And stress, over time, takes a great toll on the body—it can cause exhaustion, weakened immunity, heart problems, stomach issues, insomnia, and even mental health disorders, to name a few. Stress can make people sick. It can make those who are sick even sicker. But stress is largely a state of mind. This health documentary further investigates how stress disrupts a person’s ability to heal, and how the mind and body are connected in the healing process.

Lastly, Heal explores the current state of the healthcare system in America. It delves into what America is doing wrong, and offers way we can improve health and healthcare in our communities – a great topic of interest for aspiring public health professionals.

2.    One Nation Under Stress (2019)

While Heal touches on the impact of stress on our minds, One Nation Under Stress examines the impact that stress is having on the greater American population—and our life expectancy as a whole. This HBO documentary follows a neurosurgeon and investigative journalist, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, as he explores just why we’re experiencing so much stress today. He investigates how stress affects the brain, body, behavior, and the long-term consequences of chronic stress on the nation’s public health.

Gupta goes even further to study how stress is contributing to some of the most common causes of death in America today, such as drug overdose, liver disease, and suicide – all of which are contributing to an increasing mortality rate. Gupta speaks with healthcare professionals, neuroscientists, public health professionals, and several epidemiologists to get to the root of America’s stress epidemic.

3.    Take Your Pills (2018)

The United States is facing a prescription drug epidemic. Not only are prescription painkillers widely misused, but so are stimulant pills like Adderall and Ritalin. In fact, Take Your Pills calls Adderall “the drug of our time.” Why? Because the drug is legal, widely accepted, relatively safe, and produces positive experiences for its users (despite its risk of addiction).

This eye-opening documentary, directed by Alison Klayman, explores the controversial dynamic of prescription drug use and misuse – the benefits, and even more significantly, the risks. It dives into the pervasive acceptance of stimulants like Adderall, which are now being prescribed at epidemic levels to treat ADD, ADHD, and other disabilities in America.

4.    The Mind Explained (2019)

The Mind, Explained is a limited Netflix series – narrated by award-winning actor Emma Stone – that investigates the complexities of the human brain. It delves into topics such as dreaming, memory, and anxiety, providing explanations as well as solutions for improving these various mental states. Have you ever wondered, “Why do we dream?” “How do psychedelic drugs affect the mind?” or, “Why am I so anxious all the time?” The Mind, Explained has episodes with answers for each.

If you enjoyed The Mind, Explained ,you may also enjoy  some of these other “Explained” public health documentaries available on Netflix:

  • Explained: The Next Pandemic (2019)
  • Explained: The Future of Meat (2019)
  • Explained: The World’s Water Crisis (2018)
  • Explained: The Racial Wealth Gap (2018)
  • Explained: Why Diets Fail (2018)

5.    What the Health (2017)

We couldn’t produce a list of health documentaries without including the radical and controversial food film, What the Health. If you are interested in nutrition or food safety, this documentary is worth the watch (despite some of its faults).

Ever heard the phrase, “You are what you eat?” What the Health explores this concept a bit more in depth. Co-directors Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn – both vegans and animal right activists – attempt to show us the link between our diets and the development of chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. This health documentary promotes the positive effects of a fully plant-based diet, including how it can prevent and even treat disease. It also explores some of the corruption amidst government-run food/farm organizations, and how that is impacting consumer behavior and health.

If you’ve seen What the Health and are interested in other food and health documentaries, check out:

  • Food, Inc. (2008) – This Oscar-nominated documentary investigates America’s food supply.
  • Forks Over Knives (2011) – Like What the Health (though less hysterical), this documentary talks about the benefits of moving from an animal-based to plant-based diet, and how it can help eliminate or control diseases like cancer and diabetes.
  • In Defense of Food (2015) – Summed up in seven words: Eat food. Not that much. Mostly plants.
  • Cooked (2016) – A four-part documentary from culinary crusader Mark Pollan, in his search for a balanced diet. This touches on the gluten free movement, ethically sourced meat, and factory farming.
  • Rotten (2018) – This health documentary dives deep into corruption in the modern food industry.

For those interested in public health, these documentaries can be inspirational. They can motivate you to get up off the couch (literally) and to make a difference – whether that is putting different food in your fridge, reaching out to your community, talking to your healthcare employer, or taking the steps to pursue a field you are passionate about. A public health education could be the change you’re craving.

Goodwin University is a leader in healthcare and public health education in Connecticut. To learn about our flexible public health school – with both bachelor’s and master’s programs available in public health – please do not hesitate to call 800-889-3282 today.