Why rural living can be hazardous to your health

Photo (c) Sue Smith - Fotolia

A CDC report finds rural residents are more likely to die from five preventable causes

A popular perception of rural life is it is healthier. There is less crime, less stress, and generally a slower pace of life.

But when it comes to the five most preventable causes of death, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that the risk of death in rural areas is significantly greater than in the city.

In 2014 the CDC says there were 25,000 deaths in rural areas from heart disease, 19,000 from cancer, 12,000 from unintentional injuries, 11,000 from chronic lower respiratory disease, and 4,000 from stroke.

On a percentage basis, there were fewer deaths in urban areas from these same causes.

Striking gap in health

"This new study shows there is a striking gap in health between rural and urban Americans," said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. "To close this gap, we are working to better understand and address the health threats that put rural Americans at increased risk of early death."

The report's authors point to several demographic, environmental, economic, and social factors that might put the 46 million rural Americans at higher risk of death. Rural consumers tend to be older and sicker than people living in cities. They are more likely to smoke, have high blood pressure, and to be obese.

When quizzed, rural consumers report less physical activity and are less likely to use seatbelts. They are also more likely to be poor and have less access to healthcare and health insurance.

Fewer healthcare resources

In fact, the best health care facilities tend to be in high population areas. Because of a smaller patient population, rural hospitals tend to be smaller and have fewer resources than their urban counterparts. Rural counties also tend to have fewer emergency service resources, meaning someone suffering an accident or heart attack may take longer to get to a medical facility.

Working with other federal agencies, the CDC says there are steps that should be taken in rural communities to improve health services. They include screening patients for high blood pressure and providing treatment for those at risk.

The agency also urges steps to increase cancer screening, education, and detection, while also providing more smoking cessation programs and encouraging healthy lifestyles, such as daily exercise and healthy diets.

Opioid addiction and overdose has also become a growing problem in rural areas, growing faster there than in cities. The CDC urges healthcare providers to follow the agency's guideline when prescribing these drugs for chronic pain.

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