Recent studies have highlighted how living in rural towns could come at the expense of consumers’ health. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from Syracuse University has confirmed this, finding that mortality rates were higher in more rural areas across the country.
The researchers explained that there is no singular cause for these higher mortality rates, and women tend to be at a greater risk of death than men.
Identifying the geographic trends
To understand how geographic location can affect mortality rates, the researchers analyzed roughly three decades worth of data from the National Center of Health Statistics and focused primarily on cause of death, age, gender, and location. The study overwhelmingly revealed that rural regions have higher mortality rates than more urban areas. The findings suggest that there isn’t one specific cause of death that’s disproportionately affecting these populations; in fact, the researchers say there are several risk factors that are affecting rural consumers.
“Smaller nonmetro declines in cancers and ischemic/circulatory system diseases and larger increases in suicide, alcohol-induced cause, mental/behavioral disorders, cardiometabolic diseases, infectious diseases, and respiratory diseases are major culprits,” said researcher Shannon Monnat. “Mortality rate trends have been particularly problematic for females.”
Because these issues are so wide-reaching, the researchers believe the biggest concern is structural. Moving forward, they think that it’s important for policymakers to rethink how they approach health care decisions in these areas so they can work to make changes that best suit consumers’ needs.
“Far too often, the public health approach has been to apply health care and behavioral intervention to places with the worst health profiles,” said Monnat. “This approach has been costly and ineffective because it treats problems after they arise rather than preventing their onset. “Instead, the more cost-effective and humane approach would be to apply upstream interventions that target the structural (economic, social, environmental), corporate, and policy determinants of health to prevent future generations from exacerbating these already problematic mortality trends.”
Progress in some areas
The study showed that not every rural area across the U.S. is experiencing severe increases to mortality rates, and some areas are actually seeing progress. However, the overall trends are concerning and worth exploring in greater depth.
“While there is much to be concerned about in Appalachia, the South, and increasingly New England, some groups have seen improvement in the Mid-Atlantic, East North Central, and Mountain divisions,” said Monnat. “My analysis of specific causes of death begins to offer insight into what’s driving these disparities, but research is needed that identifies the specific upstream causal explanations for these trends, particularly those that are amenable to policy change.”